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Pigs Have Flown: A Constructive Conversation on Twitter with Monsanto

jennifer boynton headshotWords by Jen Boynton
Leadership & Transparency
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Yesterday morning the TriplePundit team was nervous. We'd publicized the heck out of our Twitter chat with Monsanto. Feedback from our community was mixed. We got lots of kudos for tackling a tough conversation, and a lot of people also expressed concern that hosting this chat might have a negative impact on TriplePundit's brand. We also heard some concerns about money -- Monsanto paid us our usual rate for facilitating and promoting the chat.

But we persevered. We trusted our core audience to understand what we were trying to do: have a constructive conversation and build some bridges with an organization that has a lot of power and opportunity to do good.

The beauty of Twitter is it gives everyone a chance to participate. However, that means that any hashtag can be co-opted by any group to get its message out. We were concerned that the channel might become overwhelmed with angry tweets.

I have to say I'm incredibly heartened by our community. Many participants had tough questions for our hosts. We love to see that!

But what we loved even more was to see intellectually robust questions and answers that furthered the conversation on soil and climate change -- a substantive topic!

You can read the whole Storify summary here.

We also saw Monsanto's own CEO Hugh Grant engage with our audience in an authentic manner. He even indicated in a Periscope broadcast after the chat that Monsanto's position on GMO labeling may be shifting.

"The myth is that we're against labeling. The reality is we would support some kind of federal standard. We would support something that covers the country, that helps consumers. Our concern has been the danger of a state-by-state labeling approach that resulted in confusion and expense."

This statement is somewhat at odds with Monsanto's website, last updated in 2013:
"We oppose mandatory labeling of food and ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks, as it could be interpreted as a warning or imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts."

Grant's comments on labeling will probably come as a surprise to sustainable agriculture advocates, as Monsanto has spent over $22 million lobbying against GMO-labeling bills at the state level.

Now that Vermont has passed a GMO-labeling bill, U.S. Rep. Michael Pompeo (R-Kan.) sponsored legislation to strip states' rights to pass labeling bills. This legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, is colloquially known as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act." The bill would, according to advocacy organization Just Label It, "make voluntary labeling for GMO foods the national standard and strip away consumers’ right to know by blocking all state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods."  Monsanto is one of Pompeo's key supporters, having given the Pompeo for Congress committee the maximum contribution of $5,000 in 2015. Monsanto is also a leading member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is lobbying hard in favor of the DARK Act.

We are pleased to see Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant go on the record supporting some kind of GMO labeling at the federal level. Obviously the next step would be for Monsanto to stop lobbying against these labeling efforts.

Jen Boynton headshotJen Boynton

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California.

When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton