Opinion: For GMOs, European Union is the last great frontier

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Photo by Darrell Hoemann/Big Ag Watch

In the United States, the vast majority of corn is grown from genetically engineered seed. Here, a central Illinois Farmer harvests his corn crop.

Dave Dickey 352

Dave Dickey

For U.S. genetically modified organisms, the European Union is the last great frontier.

American agribusiness giants such as Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland would likely love to sell GMO corn and soybean seeds to European producers, but for decades European nations – led primarily by France and Germany – have stonewalled prospective efforts by persuading their citizens that GMO’s are unsafe, unhealthy and generally un-European.

But now Syngenta has found a way into French and German agribusiness.

The reasoning goes like this: If you can’t sell GMO corn seeds to European farmers, why not partner with European agribusinesses and sell them GMO corn traits for insertion in their own hybrid mixes?

French seed group Vilmorin and German peer KWS SAAT have signed 20-year licensing agreements with Syngenta to do just that.

The two European businesses will be allowed to market Syngenta’s current and future corn traits on a separate basis or through their joint ventures AgReliant, which sells seeds in North America, and Genective, which aims to develop its own GMO corn traits. No GMO seeds will be sold in the European Union where they are deemed unsafe.

So a company geographically located in a nation that is really anti-GMO seeds itself has no problem selling outside its borders GMO traits?

Yup… and the new agreement nets Syngenta $200 million and future royalty and milestone payments.

Perhaps Syngenta’s recent bottom line made the company eager to deal. On the same day it announced its new partnerships, Syngenta – which has been under pressure to increase profits after rejecting a $47 billion takeover bid by Monsanto – reported third-quarter sales were off 12 percent.

I wonder what will happen should these GMO corn seeds ever inadvertently get planted on European Union soil.


About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.


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