Pursuing Truth and Transparency in America's Food System

Half of the Big Six agrichemical firms can’t even grow their GMOs in their own home countries

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 9, “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs,” by Gary Ruskin, co-director of the public watchdog group US Right to Know.

It is a sign of the character of the agrichemical companies that those who know them best don’t trust them.

Three of the Big Six agrichemical companies are banned from growing their genetically engineered crops in their own home countries. These countries have powerful economic incentives to promote the products of their own corporations. And yet, in this case, they do the opposite.

Syngenta is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. In 1995, Switzerland adopted regulations requiring labeling of genetically engineered food. It was one of the first countries to do so.[1] In November 2005, Swiss voters approved a referendum, with 55.7% support, endorsing a five-year ban on the planting of genetically engineered crops.[2] In 2010, the Swiss parliament extended the ban for three more years.[3] In December 2012, the Swiss parliament extended the ban through the end of 2017.[4]

Bayer is headquartered in Leverkusen, Germany; and BASF in Ludwigshafen, Germany.

E.U. regulations require labeling of genetically engineered food. And the E.U.’s restrictions on growing GMO crops are among the toughest in the world.[5] In practice, at this time, only one GMO crop is commercially cultivated in Europe: Monsanto’s MON 810 corn.[6] However, Germany banned MON 810 as well.[7] Consequently, in Germany – home of Bayer and BASF – no GMO crops are grown.

Germany’s Agriculture Minister, Christian Schmidt, is forthright on German distrust of Bayer and BASF’s genetically engineered crops. As he said in 2014: “One thing is clear: Our citizens do not want genetically-modified plants in the fields and want no gene-technology products on shop shelves.”[8]

In 2012, BASF withdrew its efforts to even attempt to sell genetically its engineered products in Europe. According to BASF board member Stefan Marcinowski, “There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe — from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians….Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”[9]

On November 11, 2014, the EU parliament approved a plan to allow EU nations to ban the farming of genetically engineered crops on their lands. It awaits final action by the parliament and EU nations, but appears likely to become law.[10] Given the unpopularity of genetically engineered crops in Germany, this increases the likelihood that the ban on cultivation of Bayer and BASF genetically engineered crops will continue indefinitely.

In general, outside the United States, there is great skepticism about genetically engineered food. According to the Center for Food Safety, 64 countries require labeling of genetically engineered food.[11]

That skepticism of genetically engineered food has been adopted by international organizations and treaties as well. The international food standards organization, Codex Alimentarius, specifically allows for GMO labeling because of health risks and other concerns.[12] In addition, two international treaties treat GMOs as presenting either potential health or environmental risks, and therefore as matters of concern. These treaties include the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the International Plant Protection Convention.[13]

Footnotes

[1] Franz Xaver Perrez, “Taking Consumers Seriously: The Swiss Regulatory Approach to Genetically Modified Food.” N.Y.U. Environmental Law Journal, 2000, Vol. 8, Issue 3.

[2] Tom Wright, “Swiss Ban Genetically Modified Crops.” International Herald Tribune, November 27, 2005.

[3]GMO Moratorium Extended for Three Years.” Swissinfo, March 10, 2010.

[4] Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety, web page on “Marketing of genetically modified organisms.” January 20, 2014.

[5] John Davidson, “GM Plants: Science, Politics and EC Regulations.” Plant Science, February 2010, Vol. 178, Issue 2, pp. 94-98. DOI: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2009.12.005

[6] European Commission, web page on “New EU approach” to GMO cultivation. “EU Moves Step Closer to Law on National GMO Crop Bans.” Reuters, November 11, 2012.

[7]Germany to Ban Cultivation of GMO Maize-Minister.” Reuters, April 14, 2009.

[8]German Govt Still Undecided on GMO Policy, Minister Tells Paper.” Reuters, March 17, 2014.

[9] James Kanter, “BASF to Stop Selling Genetically Modified Products in Europe.” New York Times, January 16, 2012.

[10]EU Moves Step Closer to Law on National GMO Crop Bans.” Reuters, November 11, 2012. “EU Deal Gives Countries Opt-out on Growing Approved GM Crops.” Reuters, December 4, 2014.

[11]Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Laws Map.” Center for Food Safety, April 2, 2013.

[12] Jerry Hagstrom, “Biotech Foods Clear for Own Label.” Agweek, July 11, 2011. “Consumer Rights Victory as US Ends Opposition to GM Labeling Guidelines.” Consumers International, July 5, 2011.

[13] See, for example, Hilary Weiss, “Genetically Modified Crops: Why Cultivation Matters.” Brooklyn Journal of International Law, 2014. 39 Brooklyn Journal of International Law 875. Phil Bereano, “A Primer on GMOs and International Law.” Council for Responsible Genetics.