Monsanto to stop seeking GMO approval in Europe

Monsanto, the world's largest producer of agricultural seeds and a giant in the field of agricultural biotechnology, is halting its efforts to lobby European governments to allow the cultivation of its genetically modified plants and seeds, a German newspaper has reported.

Follows similar moves by BASF, Syngenta

Public opposition to Monsanto has been widespread in Europe. Here, an activist from Friends of the Earth Europe, holds up a placard during a 2011 protest outside Monsanto's office in Brussels over the labelling of honey containing pollen from genetically modified maize plants. Cross-contamination of neighbouring crops has been one of the major complaints surrounding GMOs. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Monsanto, the world's largest producer of agricultural seeds and a giant in the field of agricultural biotechnology, is halting its efforts to lobby European governments to allow the cultivation of its genetically modified plants and seeds, a German newspaper has reported.

The Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (Taz) reported last week that Monsanto, which produces seeds, herbicides and other agricultural products and whose name has become synonymous with all things GMO, won't be pursuing licences for any new genetically modified plants or doing any new field trials of GMO seeds in most parts of western Europe.

'It's counterproductive to fight against windmills'— Monsanto spokesperson Ursula Luettmer-Ouazane

"We have come to understand that, at the moment, it doesn't have broad acceptance," Ursula Luettmer-Ouazane, Monsanto's spokesperson for Germany, told the Taz newspaper. "It's counterproductive to fight against windmills."

The demand for GMO seeds among European farmers is not high enough to warrant continued lobbying for approval of new products, a company spokesperson told the paper.

What's more, several European jurisdictions have outright banned the cultivation of some GMOs. Germany, for example, banned the cultivation of Monsanto's genetically modified maize, MON 810, in 2009. France, Austria, Hungary and other countries have also tried to buck EU legislation approving the crop and ban the corn, which is only one of two genetically modified crops to have been approved for cultivation in the European Union. The other is the Amflora potato made by BASF, which stopped selling its GMOs for cultivation in Europe last year after widespread opposition.

"There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe — from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians," BASF board member Stefan Marcinowski told the New York Times at the time. 

Other big GMO players such as Syngenta and Bayer CropSciences have also pulled back from the European market.

A Monsanto spokesperson told Taz that the U.S.-based multinational company will continue to sell MON 810 in Spain, Portugal and Romania, where there is greater acceptance of the product than in other parts of Europe. It will also still try to get the European Union to approve the import of GMO-containing cattle feed.

GMO opposition stronger in Europe

Consumers and governments in Europe have rejected genetically modified food more widely than those in other parts of the world, including North America. The opposition to GMOs stems from a fear of potential health risks and the rise of agricultural monocultures, which are perceived as being bad for the diversity of local agriculture and the food supply.

Even though there has been no evidence to date that GMOs have any harmful health effects on humans, the anti-GMO campaign has been gaining strength around the world in recent years. Last month, a global "March Against Monsanto" drew thousands of people into the streets in several countries, including Canada. Organizers said the march drew as many as two million people in more than 400 cities in 52 countries.

For Europe's agricultural industry, genetic technology has not been the salvation that it was promised to be, Germany's minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner, told the Taz newspaper.