Monsanto Co. has long been a lightning rod for debate, but at its annual shareholder meeting Friday, the biotech-seed company was tagged with blame or credit for an even larger number of issues than usual.
The sometimes emotional, nearly two-hour meeting sounded at times like a daytime talk show, minus thrown chairs and shouting. Critics charged Monsanto with responsibility for spikes in diabetes and autism, among other human and environmental problems. Springing to Monsanto’s defense were farmers, its own employees, and a nun who praised its efforts to reduce water use.
The meeting at Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters tested CEO Hugh Grant’s stated determination to more directly engage critics of large-scale agriculture and genetically modified crops.
For some environmentalists and advocates of organic farming, Monsanto has become the poster child for a kind of industrialized farming reliant on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, including the company’s trademark Roundup.
Advocacy groups that had purchased Monsanto shares and submitted shareholder resolutions focused on corporate governance used some of their time at the microphone to lambast Monsanto over human health problems, particularly in children, which they attributed to widespread use of Roundup, a formulation of the chemical glyphosate.
“I’m imploring you to choose a new direction,” said Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, who spoke at length. “Stop poisoning our children.”
Monsanto’s Mr. Grant, who noted that he was the father of three children as well, responded that myriad studies had shown “no linkage” between Roundup and the maladies described by Ms. Honeycutt.
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