My latest article on Monsanto is making people mad at me

by Chris on July 30, 2013

As part of the Globe and Mail “Strategy Lab” project, I write a weekly column on growth stocks. This week I took a break from the usual electronic technology area that I focus on. I wrote an article about Monsanto, a giant in the food business.

You can read it here.

It seems people are pretty pissed off at me. I find this a bit comical. You see people are mad because of what they THINK I wrote rather than what I actually wrote.

I’m not a biotech expert. I’m not a genetics expert. I’m not a pesticides expert. Sure, I’ve read articles on genetically modified foods and I’m well aware of the scientific debates going on. But for those who are reading my actual words, I wrote an article that avoids getting too much into the science. And I avoided making any scientific claims whatsoever.

Instead, I wrote about how there is a great deal of concern among industry experts. There are lots of people who are very vocal in claiming that GMO foods are dangerous, or that we shouldn’t be using ingredients like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our foods.

You see, I don’t need to prove anything scientifically. I just need to point out the size of the debate that is going on, and point out how this is leading to behavior change in some areas of corporate and government. And, of course, all of this leads back to what I feel is a risky position for Monsanto long term. If people think GMO crops are dangerous and food makers have to label GMO ingredients, this could spell bad news for the stock.

Of course, I knew when I wrote the article that people would get mad, and they’d think I was presenting scientific evidence of some kind. You can’t stop people from thinking you wrote something that you never wrote. It’s gonna happen. All the time.

Read the article.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack July 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Sorry Chris, I actually do agree with a lot of the comenters. You wrote an article that puts GMO’s in negative light and thus Monsanto in the negative light. However, you didn’t present any evidence against GMO’s but rather just stated, “some experts believe GMO negatively affects our health”.

That’s like saying Microsoft is in trouble because some experts believe Ubuntu will takeover the desktop OS. Some clarification please.

If you want to be bear on Monsanto (which is fine, I hate the company after watching Food Inc.) and GMO, that’s fine. But some factual information I believe is warranted. Rather than just, “I heard some dude said its no good”.

If you want to stir a debate regarding the merits of GMO in our lives, that’s fine too. But don’t hide behind the financial analyst veil of “I’m just looking at it from a investment point of view”.

Now write an article about Tesla and BEV. You’ll get some serious backlash then from the drill-baby-drill crowd.

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Chris July 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm

On Tesla … LOL. I wrote about it for Strategy Lab when the stock was $55. On everything else, Jack … sorry dude. You’re wrong. Lots of smart people get this wrong though, so you are in good company.

You can’t go around twisting words with “I heard some dude say …”

Bottom line is there are plenty of respected industry peeps expressing concern about GMO, and I’m pointing this out. I did not say Monsanto is evil, I didn’t say I think GMO foods harm people, and I certainly didn’t present any science to argue over. I presented the threat of changing consumer behavior and changing laws (about labelling).

You’re asking for factual information about science, which I’m not the least bit interested in engaging on. I presented factual information about growing concern (all true), labelling legistlation (again, all true) and Monsanto withdrawing applications for GMO product from Europe (again … guess what … true!). Those are the facts that matter in the investment debate.

Jack – the column **is about investing**, so I’m not hiding behind anything.

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Jack July 30, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Sorry, dude, have to argue with you some more.

You presented a story that *implies* GMO is bad without presenting any science. The one sentence that did you in was “some experts believe GMO negatively affects your health”. That’s a really big sentence.

You spoke of EU and labeling. EU’s lack of egregious use high fructose corn syrup is a political/policy issue. If you don’t need that much HFCS, you don’t need to pay for expensive corn seeds from Monsanto. Labeling is not what’s at stake here, science is. Cigarette labels did wonders to get smokers to quit right? The science got smokers to quit, not labeling. But that’s difference of opinion, no need to argue there.

What your readers are upset about is the lack of science in your observations. Yes, I know you don’t care about the science portion and you’re only looking at labeling and perception. But at the heart of it, what is driving the labeling and concerns movement? Wait for it. Science! If I say Amgen might go down the toilet because there’s a growing concern among academia and public perception that small protein based drug delivery is detrimental to one’s health, don’t you think I should clarify that a bit? Don’t I owe it to the readers to at least cover what a small protein drug is? How its derived? How its delivered?

That’s why I said you’re hiding. You might as well start with, “I don’t know shit about this topic. All I know is there’s some legislation in the works that might affect Monsanto’s bottomline”. But since I know that you do know your shit, you might as well just say what you really know/think. At least you’ll be attacked on your beliefs and not your lack of knowledge (which of course, is not true).

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Chris July 30, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Jack – I understand everything you’re saying. And yet … the science argument is not appropriate for me to make in the article. I have not the space nor the desire to engage in the debate in that article because I’m not enough of an expert on the science.

I pointed out that others who ARE experts see a major issue with GMO. I could have pointed to a few experts, but I was WAY over my word quota, so I left that out. It’s undeniable fact that experts are concerned.

And this is simply the segue into the conversation. That’s all there is to it.

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Cory August 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Well Chris – I’m glad you understand what Jack is saying, because in light of your comments to his first post, I have no idea what he is ranting about. Your article did put GMO in a negative light because – quite rankly, it is!!! As you correctly pointed out, GMO foods are are of the most debated topics facing regulators. Your article would lack credibility if you did not mention the issues surrounding regulation of GMO products.

Colin August 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

If much of the world thinks the world is flat and many think it is round and a bunch of experts are moving us to believe it is round…then…you would be doing justice to your job to say…”if you are putting stock in parachutes…you might want to sell now as later your return will likely be a lot less”…parachutes may not hold the value that they once had.
Thanks Chris for telling us what we need to know not what we want to know.
People and experts once believed the hype/lies of Monsanto et al… that GMO would help feed the starving, because the world can not provide enough food to fill the bellies of everyone without the help of high tech GMO and the deadly toxins of glyphosate…oh and the gracious help of Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont and other opportunists…who if your article dooms them…. will quickly regroup and start a new corporation…maybe: Mortosanto Granite… selling head stones to the dying world from leaky gut syndrome, diabetes, and the sequelea of illness from GMO harm…like dooming the favourable flora in our gut that helps us digest our food…is it good business that drives these companies or genocide?

PS…Chris…Sugar is GMO…a lot of sugar beets are GMO now…that doesn’t mean all, but it surely is GMO…just an update for you.

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Chris August 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hi Colin,

Good point on GMO sugar. Until recently I thought most sucrose was non-GMO and from cane. Anyway, I think it’s an unrelated issue, and I’ll explain why. If labelling laws change (or food producers move away from GMO because of a perceived risk of this law changing), it’s pretty much a certainty that HFCS will not be used, because almost all corn is GMO. It would not be economical to make HFCS without GMO corn (unless anyone things I’m wrong here? Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong).

So what do you use if you are Coke, Pepsi, etc, and you want to avoid a GMO sugar? You go back to sucrose from a non GMO crop.

All of this said … do I think there is any difference between GMO sucrose and non GMO sucrose? No. I think they are probably identical, because, at least in the absence of any contaminants, they are both molecularly equivalent. This is not the case with HFCS vs sucrose because HFCS is free form glucose + fructose, without the bond between the two sugars. No enzyme reaction is necessary to break down HFCS into its two component sugars, as is required with fructose.

Does that mean HFCS is dangerous compared to sucrose? Corn Refiners Association argues they are identical, and that the body treats them exactly the same, which is chemically not true. Is the difference large? I’m not sure. In other words, I have no way to know if HFCS is a danger to the body relative to sucrose. And I think it’s not that relevant. They are BOTH dangerous in the quantities the average person eats them, and the huge volumes of GMO corn have made HFCS so cheap that it is used in practically everything, increasing how much of it people consume. This actually makes the threat to MON worse, if I’m right about potential labelling changes and a move away from corn-based sugar.

Again, for anyone new to this discussion here, realize that I’m saying the actual science is almost irrelevant. What matters is who wins at marketing. If the anti GMO crowd wins at marketing, then food production shifts away from corn-based sugar. How can that possibly be good for Monsanto?

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Laura Smith August 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

Hey Chris,
I read your brilliant outstanding article in G&M and then I found you here, where I wanted to tell you this:
Firstly, this is the ONLY article I could find on ethical investment in the GM arena. The reason I was looking for this in the first place is because, when you invest in a 401k program, they never really tell you WHOM your investing in. Most of the plans are termed as high or low risk and a group of companies that fall into that category. We can divest from buying GMO foods in the market place and that will have it’s impact, however, it is imperative that those that do not support GMO’s and corporatocracy’s domination of the world’s food supply make note that their own portfolio’s could be enabling the very hand that is trying to feed them (junk). Excellent job you’re doing! Laura Smith

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