The Current

Can the Monsanto-Bayer deal change the image of GMOs?

This week Monsanto agreed to be taken over by the pharmaceutical company, Bayer at a price of $66 billion. There's a chance genetically altered seeds may still be sold but without the brand name, could this move change the conversation on all things GMO?
Would a genetically-modified rose smell sweeter with a different name? Now that Monsanto has been taken over by Bayer, will a new brand change the image of GMOs? (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

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On Sept. 14, the giant agricultural corporation Monsanto struck a deal to be taken over by the giant pharmaceutical company, Bayer — a potential turning point in the conversation about GMOs, genetically modified organisms.

The deal is worth 66 billion dollars U.S. and if it's approved by regulators it will mean Bayer will control more than 25 per cent of the world's supply of seeds and pesticides. It might also mean the end of the name Monsanto. Monsanto first pioneered GMO seeds around 20 years ago, and today, they make up the vast majority of GMO seeds planted in the U.S. — But the company, and its name is far from uncontroversial.

Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois  tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay that the Monsanto brand "was damaged by years of indifference towards the public."

"Everyone wanted Monsanto to disappear — Monsanto most of all. They knew that they had to do something with their brand." 

Charlebois estimates that more than 75 percent of every thing on grocery store shelves has some form of genetically modified ingredient.

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network's Lucy Sharratt says the Monsanto takeover won't affect the public perspective on GMOs. (Darren Hauck/Reuters)

Neither Monstanto, nor Bayer, would comment on whether or not the company's name will change if the sale goes through. But Lucy Sharratt, a coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, says consumer perception of GMO foods won't change with the takeover. 

"People have named Monsanto when they think about genetically modified foods. But in fact that brand name does not appear in the grocery store. So people are seeking out information where there is none and that I think is the major problem."

Sharratt says there's also a lack of in government regulation and says what "we need to see… is consultation with farmers and consumers before these products come to market."

As for what the science says about GMO safety in 2016, Charlebois says GMO ingredients haven't been around long enough to evaluate long-term health risks.

However, as a national board member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he feels there's no compelling evidence that "GMO crops represent a threat to human health."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli, Ines Colabrese and freelancer Richard Raycraft.