Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fedco Seeds Takes Moral High Ground Against Monsanto

Fedco, a cooperatively owned seed company–founded in Maine back in 1978 and specializing in serving organic growers–found itself facing an ethical dilemma when Monsanto, a company known for its experiments in genetic engineering and aggressive filing of intellectual property claims (criminalizing farmers for saving seed, even) announced it was going to buy its and best largest supplier, Seminis.

Noted for its aggressive advocacy of genetically modified crops and its dominance in biotechnology, Monsanto will now have a major presence in the vegetable seed business for the first time. No one knows if or when they will incorporate transgenes into their vegetable varieties.

The Monsanto buyout presented us with a serious ethical dilemma. In striving to carry the best possible varieties at reasonable prices, we have based our selections largely on the merits of the varieties, rarely on our supplier preferences. Could we be purveyors of Monsanto products and still sleep well at night? Many of our customers have depended upon Seminis’ good genetics. However much we may think we require these varieties in the short run, they come at a devastating social cost, ultimately the complete alienation of sower from seed.

Fedco explained a bit about Monsanto and asked its customers to choose among several options, ranging from coding the Monsanto products in its catalog to eliminating them entirely. The membership overwhelmingly voted for immediate withdrawal. So, before the merger was consummated, Fedco bought a year’s worth of Seminis seeds and announced that there wouldn’t be any more.

Will this cause a hardship? Yes. But the company has taken a principled position that I suspect will ultimately help–and the year of product it bought will buy time to experiment with different suppliers, different seed varieties.

The company’s statement on this is well worth reading. I hope to get permission to post the whole thing, but in the meanwhile, just follow the link.


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