The Monsanto Corporation, the world’s largest purveyor of genetically modified food seeds, is combating a growing worldwide opposition to GM foods. Can Monsanto change? Can Monsanto be prodded into another business strategy? And if so, will other GMO seed sellers such as Dupont follow suit?
Businesses are typically in it to make money: Even businesses that develop products that ultimately hurt people or harm the planet. It may take some concerted efforts among consumers and legislators, but eventually, especially among larger publicly-held companies like Monsanto, when the customers stop buying their goods, they can lose control over the market and be forced to make strategy changes.
This may be precisely what has prompted Monsanto to acquire companies that utilize natural cross-breeding methods.
Contingency planning may become more vital to Monsanto as growing genetically modified crops face partial or complete bans in the following countries:
Germans have banned the growing of all GMO crops.
GMO crops have been banned from growing in Ireland, and Ireland has a voluntary GM food labeling system.
Austria, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Bulgaria
These countries have banned GMO crops and have banned the sale of GM foods in their countries.
France has banned the growing of GM crops. As of May 16, 2012, France has re-instituted its ban on Monsanto’s MON810 GM corn from being grown in the country. A high court in France overturned a 2008 ban last year, but growing sentiment in France pushed the French minister of Agriculture to reinstate the ban this past May of 2012.
The island country off of Portugal banned growing GMO crops in 2010.
The Swiss banned the growing of all genetically modified crops, as of 2005, and this ban has been extended through at least 2013.
As of October 2013, the Twelfth Federal District Court ordered the Mexican government to ban the planting of all genetically modified maize (corn), as well as halt all commercial pilot test plots. As to whether this will translate to a complete ban of GMOs in Mexico remains to be seen.
Japanese law bans the growing of any genetically modified seeds or crops in Japan. However, Japanese food manufacturers are actively importing “Roundup Ready” GMO canola grown in Canada primarily to manufacture canola oil. As a result, scientists have found that the GMO canola variety is now growing wild along roadsides and ports that have been the supply line for canola importation.
Australians have been successful in banning GMO crops from being grown in South Australia and in Tasmania.
Kiwis have banned the growing of any GMO food in the country.
India’s cotton farmers experienced a disaster with their 2007-08 crop of cotton when they used Monsanto’s GM cotton seed. Over 125,000 Indian farmers committed suicide because their crops were so bad that they lost their farm and homes to banks. In 2010, the government instituted a ban on GMO eggplant due to this tragedy and further information provided by scientists and agricultural experts. The Bt Brinjal variety was banned due to concerns of the seeds contaminating other self-sustaining crops. The Monsanto seeds are also “terminator” seeds, which require the farmer to purchase the seeds – at a price 1,000 times the price of a normal seed – each year from Monsanto. With natural seeds, farmers often produce their own seeds to plant the next year.
After GMO papayas began to contaminate other cropland in field trials, Thailand has been working to reduce their use of GMO crops. Japan then banned the importation of Thailand papayas (as well as papayas from Hawaii – which are now predominantly genetically modified).
In the United States, several states have attempted to ban GMO crops or require labeling for GE foods but have faced legal opposition, with many having backed down from legal pressure – some say from Monsanto’s lobbyists and lawyers. Some states, such as California and Washington, have put GMO labeling on ballot initiatives. California’s initiative was barely defeated in 2012, and Washington State’s initiative in 2013 was also defeated.
Meanwhile, some 28 initiatives have sprung up in other states, and Connecticut has passed the first GMO-labeling law in the United States. This law, House Bill 6527, passed on June 3, 2013. The law dictates that all GMO foods sold in the state must be labeled as such, but only if four other states in the New England region – with an aggregate of at least 25 million residents – also pass GMO labeling laws. “Two of the five trigger states had to border Connecticut or be New York and New Jersey,” according to a Release from Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s office.
Nevertheless, four counties in the United States have banned the planting of GMO crops: California counties of Trinity, Marin, Mendocino and Santa Cruz. The county council on the island (and county) of Kauai, Hawaii approved a GMO disclosure bill for the island (not a banning of GMOs), and this bill was signed into law by Mayor Bernard Carvalho on December 5, 2013.
On December 6, 2013, Billy Kenoi, Mayor of the “Big Island” of Hawaii (a county in the State of Hawaii) also signed into law a bill that would restrict GMOs from being grown on that island. While again not an outright ban, the “GMO” Bill 113 requires open air GMO cultivation to be registered with the county, and it exempts the cultivation of GMO papaya – exempting specifically: “Any person engaged in the open air cultivation, propagation, or development of genetically engineered papaya…” (Section 14 – Exemptions (2)).
Consumers increasingly resistant to buying GMO foods
In addition to the movement in the U.S. to require GMO labeling, even among countries where GMO crops are allowed by governments, citizens are becoming progressively resistant to purchasing GE (“genetically engineered”) foods. This has become evident in Canada, Britain, Spain and other countries in addition to the U.S. where movements among citizen-action groups and legislators seek GMO labeling requirements as well as crop bans.
Label requirements for GMOs have proved lethal to GM crops and GM seed suppliers in those countries that require labeling. And more than 40 countries from around the world now either require GE foods to be labeled or have instituted voluntary labeling laws. These labeling laws, mostly among first-world countries, have occurred primarily out of concern that genetically engineered foods – or the potential of its increased pesticide content – may prove to have negative health consequences. Others are simply creeped out by the prospect of genetically altering our food supply without a clear understanding of the long-term consequences.
And research shows that genetically-modified food sales decrease with labeling laws.
While much of the world’s educated consumers are pushing for either banning GMO crops or at least requiring GMO labeling, many of the world’s largest growing regions still embrace growing GMO crops. These include China, Canada, countries in Africa, and much of South America. In the U.S., some 90% of acres planted are now from genetically modified seeds.
Just consider a planet where nearly all the crops grown will not produce seeds. What will such a world look like? It will be a world dominated by the Monsanto Corporation. Why? Because most of their GM seeds have been modified to – among other things – not produce plantable seeds. This means that farmers will have to rely upon one supplier – the owner of the patented seed to supply them with their seeds: Monsanto.
Monsanto’s strategy is working. As their GM seeds have been proliferating in many parts of the world, Monsanto’s sales have been growing due to its success with Bt corn and other crops. Currently two-thirds of their sales are from seeds, and their seed business and profits have been growing at a clip of 10% or more per year. Can we stop it? There is only one way to stop the coming devastation of our natural crops by Monsanto and their GM competitors such as DuPont:
By not buying GM foods.
Monsanto’s recent acquisition of Seminis, which included several divisions that develop non-GMO hybrids, is proof that Monsanto can learn to become successful without spreading the world with genetically modified seeds that will change our food and crop landscape forever.
The Seminis company owns the rights to the lettuce hybrid called Frescada. Frescada was originally developed as a natural hybrid between romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce. It is crisper than romaine, and more nutritious than iceberg. And it is now being sold in many stores.
The natural crossbred variety was originally developed by Petoseed, a small seed breeder from the Central California region. The variety does indeed produce its own seeds if grown for seed, and it does not contaminate other crops.
There is a critical difference between genetic modification and natural crossbreeding techniques. Cross breeding comes from two species being joined together during their growing stages, resulting in a natural hybridization. This is a natural event that also occurs in nature. Humans have been crossbreeding for thousands of years.
Genetic modification is done in a laboratory. DNA from one species is spliced into another species’ genes, typically utilizing a virus as a carrier for the gene splice. This creates, in effect, a mutation within the target species – creating a genetic modification that multiplies with cellular division. As this mutant begins to reproduce, seeds are produced. Any type of DNA can theoretically be used to create such a modification. And such a modification can also yield viral growth, possibly affecting the outcome of the resulting ‘patented’ species.
Instead of demonizing companies, they can be encouraged to change. Change is easily made by each of us, by voting with our wallets. With a little research, we can come to know which foods and which brands utilize GM crop ingredients. Most of the conventional corn and conventional soy being grown in the U.S. and around the world is now GMO. As such, choosing to buy organic corn and organic soy products – or avoiding them altogether – will reduce demand for a majority of the GMO crops currently being grown.
As sales of cereals and other products containing conventional corn and soy decrease, companies like General Mills and Kellogg’s will begin offering organic corn and soy or non-GMO corn or soy. Both companies have already acquired organic brands, so the change is beginning. As consumers purchase more of these non-GMO products, demand among farmers will decrease, driving the price of GMO crops down. GM farmers will then begin to switch their crops to non-GMO crops.
We must take responsibility for our corporations. They do not control us. Consumers control them. Tobacco corporations, for example, became successful because smoking became popular among consumers. Yes, maybe they didn’t tell us we’d get cancer and they helped persuade us to smoke with smart advertising, but then again many of us knew that smoking gave us cancer and kept on smoking anyway. This has kept the tobacco companies in business.
Monsanto’s GM strategy has been the result of the acceptance – knowingly or not – of its technology by consumers. Now only consumers can change this. Yes, we can get some laws changed and require labeling – and that is good. But only consumers can decide not to buy GM foods.
And GM food is easy to avoid because organic foods are not allowed to include GMO ingredients. In addition, new compliance labeling by the Non-GMO Verification Project is being introduced on more and more labels, and Whole Foods has announced it will require all brands in their stores to be labeled Non-GMO by 2018.
So gradually, consumers, retailers, action groups and brands are taking action. Let’s support these efforts instead of demonizing GM companies. After all, consumers pay their salaries.