The use of genetically modified crops remains a controversial practice, with many world governments yet to find a balance between healthy and sustainable food and public health concerns. In May, the most recent GM crop scandal to hit the U.S. came to light, after the USDA reported that it had confirmed the discovery of genetically engineered wheat in fields intended for export. No GM wheat has ever been approved in the U.S., and the contaminant was soon traced to experimental crops grown nearby by Monsanto. The outcome of this increasingly widespread contamination is yet to become clear, though Japan, the EU, and certain other nations imposed an immediate import ban on U.S. wheat.
Although GM crops apart from wheat are widely grown in both the U.S. and other areas of the world, the EU has been hesitant about the benefits.
The EU – a 28-member body that comprises some of the largest consumer markets in the world – has shown little interest in cultivating new types of GM crops, and this week Monsanto announced it was scrapping all plans it had to apply for approval to grow them. Although GM crops apart from wheat are widely grown in both the U.S. and other areas of the world, the EU has always tended more toward reluctance, with European consumers hesitant about the benefits. As such, approval to grow GM crops within the EU can take years.
Monsanto will instead focus on conventional seed businesses in Europe while also applying to import GM crops from the U.S. and South America.
Independent studies on wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest revealed that experimental “Roundup resistant” pesticide-proof wheat grown in 16 states between 1998 and 2005 had, rather than being destroyed upon the project’s termination, managed to cross-pollinate with nearby crops. Wheat exports are worth more than $8 billion per year in the U.S., but GM wheat is not approved for human consumption. Farmers have voiced concerns that the company’s actions may already have seriously damaged the industry, and some are seeking to take legal action. Although it’s too early to gauge their chances, one thing’s for certain – Monsanto’s future in Europe is, for now, strictly limited to non-GM projects.