(Beyond Pesticides, April 15, 2009) Stating that it represents a danger to the environment, Germany’s Federal Minister for Nourishment, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner, announced an immediate ban on Monsanto’s MON810 genetically engineered (GE) maize yesterday. Claiming the decision is based on science and is an individual case, not a broad banning of all GE crops, Ms. Aigner stated, “Genetic engineering must include a complete guarantee of the security for person, animal, plant and environment.”
Environmentalists, scientists and farmers opposed to GE crops have argued that the corn, which confers resistance to pests, could pollute other crops and pose a threat to the environment and human health. The debate over the use of GE crops in Europe has been ongoing for at least a decade.
MON810 maize, brand name YieldGard, is the only GE crop currently cultivated in the European Union (EU). Under EU laws, countries are allowed to ban individual GE crops for environmental and health reasons. Currently, Hungary, France, Austria, Greece and Luxembourg ban MON810 maize. In March, EU environment ministers overwhelmingly rejected a European Commission proposal to force Austria and Hungary to lift their bans on the controversial cultivation of varieties of genetically modified (GM) corn. Over 20 member states voted against the Commission proposal. Hungary can maintain its ban on Monsanto’s GM maize MON810, and Austria on MON810 and Bayer’s T25.
The effects of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize MON 810, which is engineered to produce a toxin to kill the corn borer, are uncertain and controversial. European Environment Ministers concluded last December that GE risk assessment in the EU is not fulfilling legal requirements, that long term impacts have not been assessed. MON810 is currently being re-assessed at EU level as required under EU law. On November 10, 2008, the Austrian government released a report of long term research showing GE corn fed to mice significantly reduced their fertility over three to four breeding cycles within one generation. Similar effects were found in mice fed GE corn and bred over four generations.
According to a recent report by the by the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth International, GE seeds cost from two to over four times as much as conventional, non-GM seeds, and the price disparity is increasing. From 80% to over 90% of the soybean, corn and cotton seeds planted in the U.S. are GE varieties. Thanks to GE trait fee increases, average U.S. seed prices for these crops have risen by over 50% in just the past two to three years. Exploitation of the food crisis has been extremely profitable for Monsanto, by far the dominant player in GE seeds. Goldman Sachs recently projected that Monsanto’s net income (after taxes) would triple from $984 million to $2.96 billion from 2007 to 2010.
The exorbitant cost of GM seeds is not the only problem. The vast majority of GE crops are not grown by or destined for the world’s poor, but instead are soybeans and corn used to feed animals, generate biofuels, or produce highly processed food products consumed mostly in rich countries. The report documents that nearly 90% of the global area planted GE crops in 2008 was found in just 6 countries with highly industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors in North and South America, with the U.S., Argentina and Brazil responsible for 80% of GE crops. The United States alone produced 50% of the world’s GE crops in 2008.
Despite more than a decade of hype, the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GE crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. In fact, the biotechnology industry’s own figures show that 85% of all GE crop acreage worldwide in 2008 was planted with herbicide-tolerant crops. Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s best selling herbicide Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate) have been a boon to Monsanto’s profits, but not without environmental costs.
Environmental and public health groups believe that, at a very minimum, labeling as a means of identifying products that contain GE ingredients are critical and complete regulatory review of all GE crops, which is currently not the case. Organic agriculture does not permit GE crops or the use of synthetic herbicides, and focuses on building the soil—minimizing its effect on climate change. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ GE program page.