(c) PETE RICHES/DEMOTIX/CORBIS

(c) PETE RICHES/DEMOTIX/CORBIS

Biotech giant, Monsanto, has been met with a wave of furious protests during the past year in Europe, as the company intended on introducing genetically modified seed crops in the EU. As opposed to the US, where despite the general public is nearly or just as adverse in the face of genetically modified crops, politicians in the EU actually adhered to their people’s wishes and have blocked Monsanto efforts to introduce GM crops in the EU. In response, Monsanto made a sensible business decision and  announced it will no longer be seeking approvals for genetically modified (GM) crops now under review for cultivation in the European Union (EU).

“As long as there’s not enough demand from farmers for these products and the public at large doesn’t accept the technology, it makes no sense to fight against windmills,” explained Ursula Luettmer-Ouazane, Monsanto’s German spokeswoman.

This doesn’t mean that Monsanto has given up on GM Europe, though. Instead, the company believes that Europe still needs time to get used to the idea of GMOs, and are certainly leaving their door open for when that time comes. Until then, Monsanto is still operating in the EU with business catering to conventional seed crops and agriculture.

Until recently when the company gave up on all but one of them, Monsanto sought approval from the European commission for a variety of genetically modified crops (maize, soya etc). In such cases, the regulatory path is rather clear. First, the GMO must be analyzed  by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy and deemed safe before it can pass a draft decision by the European Commission following three months. The red tape surrounding these procedures has proven to be much more cumbersome than Monsanto had projected it seems, despite intense lobbying.

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Since 2005, the EFSA has deemed eight crops as safe, however public dismay (some countries banned GMO crops altogether) has mandated the commission not to move forward on any of them. Four crops out of these are Monsanto, while five GM crops were still under review by the EFSA. The company has chosen to withdraw all but one crop from the approval board –  one GM maize, MON810 which is already grown in the EU, but is now up for its ten-year re­approval review.

While anti-GMO advocates are thrilled at the news, others are frightened this is a step down for Europe as other regions of the world are increasingly adopting the technology.

“It’s bad news for Europe, for European farmers and for global food security,” says Jonathan Jones, who uses both GM and conventional approaches to study disease resistance in plants at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK. “Europe has to get its act together.”

As the GMO stigma becomes ever more bearing, even a small patch of GMO crop can cause turmoil. Increasingly, researchers are looking for the chance to do their work in more accepting countries in the Far East, Africa and Latin America, says Denis Murphy, a plant biotechnologist at the University of South Wales near Pontypridd, UK. “I do a lot of my work now overseas,” he says. “I’ve almost given up on Europe.”

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