BRUSSELS: Faced with widespread concerns in Europe over its genetically modified foods, US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto said Thursday it was giving up on plans to grow new GM crops in the EU, which has held up approval for years.
“We will no longer be pursuing approvals for cultivation of new biotech crops in Europe,” Monsanto said, adding that it would now focus on its conventional seeds business.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it “took note of the decision” by Monsanto which produces a whole stable of GM crops and in wide use in the United States and elsewhere.
In Europe, however, suspicion about the use of GM food products is widespread, with many fearing their use is a health hazard.
Monsanto insists such fears are groundless and that GM products are essential if growing global demand for food is to be met.
The EU currently allows only two GM products to be grown in the 28-member bloc — Monsanto’s MON 810 maize and German conglomerate BASF’s Amflora potato.
Brussels cleared MON 810 in 1998 for 10 years and Monsanto submitted a request in 2007 for it to be extended but the process has been effectively frozen since then.
In the absence of a formal decision on the renewal request, MON 810 is still grown on a small scale, notably in Spain and Portugal whose governments have been more welcoming than other member states.
Environmental groups welcomed Monsanto’s announcement.
“This is great news for science and research in Europe,” said Mark Breddy, Greenpeace EU spokesman.
“Over the last couple of decades, GM crops have proven themselves to be an ineffective and unpopular technology, with unacceptable risks for our environment and health,” Breddy said.
“Monsanto’s retreat could finally create the space for European farming to focus on modern practices and technologies that offer real advances for food production and rural communities.”
Earlier this year, Monsanto said it saw little interest in pursuing new EU approvals in the absence of clear support from governments and farmers, and a strong regulatory framework.
Such conditions were found in only a few EU countries such as Spain and Portugal, the company said, adding that it also sold MON 810 on a limited scale in Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Monsanto stopped selling MON 810 in France in 2008 and in Germany in 2009 in the face of popular opposition.
At the start of this year, Brussels called a halt to all GM approval applications, saying it needed to look at the issue again given the deep divisions in the 28-member EU.
Monsanto’s decision Thursday follows an outcry in May over the discovery of GM wheat in the US state of Oregon which led some Asian importers to halt or suspend trade with US growers as an investigation was launched.
While some corn and soybeans have been genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides or insecticides, GM wheat has not been approved anywhere as yet.
Shortly afterwards, Monsanto announced it was developing a new form of wheat modified to be impervious to its Roundup herbicide in a bid to improve yields.