By Sarah Marshall
Monsanto claims that it is easing lobbying efforts in Europe until broader support for their genetically modified (GM) seed can be attained. With recent controversy over an Oregon farmer discovering that unapproved genetically modified wheat was growing in his field, the biotech giant has been under scrutiny.
GM seeds work in two ways, either they have the ability to excrete their own insecticide or are able to stand being doused with Round-Up herbicide ensuring only the intended crop will survive. These seeds are also unique in that they have been sterilised, meaning that farmers cannot save harvest seeds to re-plant the following season, and must buy new seed from Monsanto each growing cycle. This practice ensures continued business for the Corporation; as they make the seed and fertilizer, charge farmers per hectare of GM seed planted, and will readily sue farmers, whose natural crops might have been accidently contaminated by their GM seeds, citing patent infringement. In fact, a spending Bill was recently passed that included complete judicial exemption from any harm done by these GM seeds.
Referred to as the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ by opponents, and the ‘Farmer Assurance Provision’ by advocates, it allows continued cultivation of crops that are still being researched for safety. According to Connor Adam Sheets of the International Business Times, “The ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ effectively bars Federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future.”
The European Union (EU) is much wearier of corporate protection in government, and often uses the precautionary principle when it comes to new questionable technologies. Mandatory labelling of GM foods was not such a battle in Europe as it is in the US, and in most EU countries buffer zones are required around GM crops in an attempt to prevent contamination of natural crops. Contamination is a major issue regarding Monsanto’s genetically modified, sterile seeds. Seed contamination can occur extremely easily, from strong winds to bee pollination.
Monsanto has brought many lawsuits to court against farmers in the US and Canada for so-called patent infringement. Intimidation techniques are often used in these cases for farmers to sign away their rights and settle out of court.
Advocates for genetically modified seeds claim that crop yields as well as nutritional value are greater using these seeds, but studies have shown otherwise. Long-term research was not conducted before GM seeds were put on the market in the US, as Monsanto claimed that the food was “substantially equivalent” to its natural counterpart. The failing of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require independent studies has led to widespread use and public consumption of these crops. The most popular GM crops include corn, soy, and canola. This explains the reasoning behind these ingredients’ presence in the majority of processed foods. High fructose corn syrup has essentially replaced sugar as a sweetener in many processed foods.
Some believe Europe is lagging behind the rest of the world by not accepting widespread domestic growth of GM crops, while still importing them from the US and South America. This pressure could push them to encourage growth of genetically modified crops, or perhaps reveal them as ahead of the curve for opting out, once research reveals the long-term detrimental health effects of GM foods.
Spain and Portugal are the main growers of GM crops in the EU. Monsanto Germany’s spokeswoman, Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane, stated in an interview that these two countries are the only ones in the EU with broad farmer support of transgenic seeds. A critique of the statement by William Engdahl of The Cornucopia Institute, mentions that, “The EU Commission has announced it will meet to vote on approving licensing of a new Monsanto GMO patented maize, SmartStax, on June 10, ten days after the carefully formulated Monsanto FAZ interview.” (referring to interview with Lüttmer-Ouazane).
Though Monsanto claims it will ease its efforts in the EU, it may be a PR campaign in order to lessen public scrutiny of the company, as the public may pick up on the fact that the biotech giant developed Agent Orange and DDT, both of which are now banned. The EU is willing to review new products by the biotech corporation and is slowly easing restrictions to certain seed varieties. They may be slower to jump on the bandwagon, but once the rest of the world accepts GM crops, it will be that much harder for the EU to fully opt out.
Monsanto will be patient with pushing GMOs for now, because contamination is fairly inevitable, for it would not seem that they will accept stagnant quarterly reports anytime soon.
Sarah Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy