After a long, concerted attempt to persuade the European Union to accept genetically modified (GM) crops, Monsanto is finally giving up the fight. The biotech giant will not apply for the approval of new GM seeds in Europe in the face of widespread protests and suspicion among farmers. Monsanto has not applied for GM plant approval in Europe for the past couple of years, but officially told the German newspaper Taz they would halt applications in Europe. They are also shutting down all European lobbying efforts.
“As long as there’s not enough demand from farmers for these products and the public at large doesn’t accept the technology, it makes no sense to fight against windmills,” explained Ursula Luettmer-Ouazane, Monsanto’s German spokeswoman.
Still, she left the door open for future action, saying Europe simply “needs more time” to get used to the idea of GMOs.
Though GMOs are increasingly unavoidable in the U.S. — Monsanto owns roughly 90 percent of the staple crops in the country — Europe has remained wary. Monsanto, with the help of the U.S. government, has lobbied hard to weaken European regulatory safeguards and force the EU to accept GM imports, with little success.
Europe has stood firm against the biotech onslaught not merely because Europeans are opposed to GMOs, but because their political leaders are listening to their constituents. Americans are just as skeptical of Monsanto and GMOs in general as Europeans are, but the company continues to flourish and even skirt environmental law thanks to its entrenched ties to the U.S. government, regulators, and politicians. In contrast, several EU member nations have outright banned GM crops, citing concerns that Monsanto’s products would contaminate native crops and could be unsafe for the environment.
Their suspicions are warranted. In the U.S., Monsanto’s GM seeds have driven conventional and organic seeds to near extinction, putting food diversity in peril. Mexico, whose political leaders have warmed to Monsanto despite farmers’ protests, stands to lose generations of cultivated maize diversity to GM contamination.
The U.S. is also starting to see an epidemic of “superweeds” and “superinsects” that have evolved to overcome Monsanto’s patented gene, forcing farmers to use even heavier doses of pesticides on their crops. American farmers, left with few non-GM alternatives, have suffered from Monsanto’s dominance, as well; though they have historically saved seeds and bred their own non-GMO strains, farmers must pay Monsanto each year for new seeds or face the very real threat of legal action. Meanwhile, the consolidation of the global seed market among a handful of powerful companies has driven up seed prices and stifled innovation by smaller firms.
Europe is currently screening American wheat imports after illegal GM wheat contamination was detected in Oregon last week. Japan and South Korea have both banned some wheat imports from the U.S. altogether.