Science in Society Archive

Continuing Demise of GMOs

More than two-thirds of EU nations opted for bans on growing GM crops; Monsanto stocks fell 25 %, losses deepen, and 12 % of workforce slashed Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

GM crop bans swept across the EU

The majority of EU member states (two-thirds) have decided to “opt-out” of genetically modified (GM) food cultivation after new legislation brought into force this Spring gives individual member state the power to restrict GM cultivation in their own territories.

Following the deadline of the 3 October 2015, European Commission spokesperson Enrico Brivio confirmed that 19 of the 28 members that belong to the EU block have requested ‘opt-outs’ [1]: Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region (constituting over half of Belgium’s territory), Britain (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. Germany has a partial opt-out that will still allow research into GM crops without commercial cultivation. Altogether these nations represent ~70 % of the EU population and over two-thirds of its arable land.

Serbia and Russia, not members of the EU, have also made a point of rejecting the technology, with Serbia now marketing itself as an exclusively non-GM soy producer [2-4]. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, has a moratorium against GM crops already in place.

Similar opt-out proposals are under consideration for imports of GM food and animal feed but are yet to be finalised.

Concerns over safety, conflict of interest, corrupt regulation, and lack of demand

Scotland was the first to announce its opt-out, with environment secretary Richard Lochhead saying they intend to uphold the precautionary principle – which states that when there is reasonable suspicion of harm, lack of scientific certainty or consensus must not be used to postpone preventative action, adding [5]:  “There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 bn food and drink sector. The Scottish government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.” And, “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.”

UK-based pro-GM lobbyist Sense about Science orchestrated a letter signed by a number of organisations including certain universities claiming that Scotland will be missing out on future innovations such as enriched GM fishmeal or GM potatoes [6], despite Scotland having some of the world’s most renowned wild salmon and fish stocks. They have completely ignored the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GM crops. The risks were summarised in ISIS’ response to Sense about Science’s letter [7] (Open Letter in Support of Scotland’s Ban on GMOs, SiS 68), together with another open letter published in support of Scotland’s decision, signed by dozens of independent scientists, referring to the widespread conflict of interest by many who endorse GM crops, and highlighting GM crop-associated rising pesticide use, lack of increased yields, as well as safety concerns to health and environment [8]. Regulation is permissive, to say the least; GM crops are never tested with their associated pesticides, as in the case of glyphosate-tolerant GM crops [9]. At worst, it is corrupt, as risk assessment is essentially left to the chemical industry (see [1o]Scandal of Glyphosate Re-assessment in Europe,SiS63). Among the copious evidence of harm to health and the environment are a recent letter signed by 300 scientists published in a peer-reviewed journal (see [11] Scientists Declare No Consensus on GMO Safety, SiS 60) and [12] Ban GMOS Now (ISIS special report). Preventing contamination of non-GM crops is also a major issue

Germany’s concerns were stated in their application, signed by Dr Robert Kloos, the deputy food and agriculture minister [13]: “The cultivation of genetically modified maize is incompatible with the usual agricultural land use in Germany. It would have negative effects on the cultivation of conventional and organic maize. [It] would increase the risk that domestic agricultural products including the conventional and organic maize seeds may be contaminated with genetically modified maize ingredients…This demand is also due to the necessity to maintain local biodiversity, certain types of natural and landscape features and specific ecosystem functions..

These bans have come on the heels of the fallout from glyphosate being reclassified ‘probable human carcinogen’ by World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2015 [14] (Fallout from WHO Classification of Glyphosate as Probable Carcinogen, SiS 67). Campaigns to ban and phase out the chemical across the world have intensified with major successes, and lawsuits are being .mounted against Monsanto for false claims of safety. This is bound to hurt sales of Monsanto’s flagship product.

Monsanto’s fortunes flagging since 2014, now a turn for the worse

The fortunes of ag-biotech giants including Monsanto have been flagging since at least 2014, when China the world’s largest importer of grain and GM produce began rejecting major shipments of maize on account of contamination with non-approved GMOs. At the same time, the rising popularity of non-GMO and organic food, and increasing problems with glyphosate-resistant weeds and Bt-resistant pests have prompted record numbers of US farmers to switch back to non-GMO or to organic production. The WHO’s re-assessment of glyphosate may be the last straw (see [15] Ending GMOs Now, SiS 66).

In January 2015, Monsanto announced its earnings fell by 34 % in the first fiscal quarter; a further loss of 15 % was announced for the second fiscal quarter in April 2015.

Monsanto’s vice-president sold 27 580 shares of Monsanto stock, just over 40 % of his holding.

On 7 October, Monsanto said it will cut 2 600 jobs (12 % of its workforce) to restructure and save on costs over the next 18 to 24 months [16]. The initial phase is expected to save £275-300 million by the end of fiscal year 2017 at a total cost of approximately $850-900 million. It is developing plans to save an additional $100 million. In the fourth quarter, Monsanto reported a loss of $495 million, compared to a loss of $156 million during the same quarter the year before. 

To add to its woes, Monsanto share has plunged 25 % in Spring 2015 [17] while market prices for corn and soybean have dropped below production costs [18]. The company’s long attempt to buy up rival pesticide giant Syngenta collapsed in August [19].  The future does not look so bright. “There is no doubt 2016 will be a tough year for the industry,” said chief financial officer Pierre Courduroux on a call with investors [20]. Monsanto is now forecasting per-share earnings for the new fiscal year of $5.10 to $5.60, well below analyst forecasts of $6.19. Apart from cutting jobs, it announced a new $3 billion accelerated share repurchase programme. Tom Philpott of Mother Jones explains [17]: “Share buybacks are a form of financial (as opposed to genetic) engineering – they magically boost a company’s earnings-per-share ratio (a metric closely watched by investor) simply by removing shares from the market.”

Philpott also sums up the situation [17]: “Research-and-development investments in the ag-biotech/agrichemical sector aren’t paying off – not enough blockbuster new products – so the few companies remaining in the field (there are six) are going to start swallowing each other up.”

Update (30th October 2015)

Further signs of GMO demise have hit the press. According to research carried out by Sustainable Pulse, a total of 38 countries worldwide now ban GMOs [21]. Actually they left out a most important African country Zambia, which has refused to accept GMOs as food aid, and has banned GMOs since 1999 (see [22] Africa Unites Against GM to Opt for Self-sufficiency, SiS 16). This brings the actual total to 39 countries banning GMOs, compared to 28 countries growing GM crops.

In countries growing GM crops, farmers are returning to conventional non-GM varieties beginning with the USA (see above) as GM traits have become useless from Bt resistant pests and herbicide resistant weeds. The same is now happening in India, where a study found Bt cotton linked to farmer suicides in rain-fed areas (see [23] Bt Cotton Directly Linked to Indian Farmer Suicides in Rain-Fed Areas, SiS 67). The failure of Bt-cotton in Burkina Faso has already prompted the private sector there to phase out the crop in favour of conventional non-GM varieties. The pink bollworm has now developed resistance to Monsanto’s Bollgard II [24] in India, and cotton farmers now have the option of switching to non-Bt hybrid cotton seeds that yield as much at half the costs [25].

Consumer pressure is also a powerful deterrent. US farmers growing GM sugar beet - many in Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan and Idaho - have seen their share of the US sugar market shrink to the smallest on record as imports of cane sugar rise in response to increasing consumer demand for non-GMO products [26]. Companies including Hershey, Chopotle, Ben & Jerry’s and General Mills have pledged to drop GMO ingredients in some products. Farmers in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas grow sugar cane. ASR Group, the world’s largest vertically-integrated cane sugar refiner, have been selling GMO-free sugar through the non-GMO Project, as have AMCane Sugar Refining LLC and Cumberland Packing Corp, whose packets of “Sugar in the Raw” are used in thousands of Starbucks stores across America.

The EU Parliament has rejected national GMO ban on sale and imports of EU-approved GMO food [27]. Anti-GMO campaigners welcomes this decision, as the European Commission proposal to allow national bans would not have worked, as it would result in “creeping GMO contamination.” It would also have encouraged the EU to approve “a flood” of GMOs on grounds that individual member states could impose their own bans.

Finally, Monsanto is shrinking further. It plans to shut down three research and development centres in 2016 with a loss of 90 jobs [28]. Two of the centres are located in Middleton Wisconsin, and Mystic Connecticut respectively, both engaged in seed trait development; the third is Research Triangle Park North Carolina, which does plant screening and phenotyping. Monsanto owns the facilities in Wisconsin and Connecticut and is looking for buyers for them and for a replacement tenant for its leased property In Carolina.

Article first published 14/10/15



References

  1. Majority of EU nations seek opt-out from growing GM crops. Reuters.com, accessed 7th October 2015 http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/10/04/us-eu-gmo-opt-out-idUKKCN0RY0M320151004
  2. Serbia Will Not Allow Cultivation Of GMO Crops. Inserbia.info, accessed 7th October 2015 http://inserbia.info/today/2015/09/serbia-will-not-allow-cultivation-of-gmo-crops/
  3. Serbia promotes itself as exclusive non-GMO soy producer. EUfoodlaw.com, accessed 7th October 2015 http://www.eurofoodlaw.com/food-technology/serbia-promotes-itself-as-exclusive-non-gmo-soy-producer--1.htm
  4. Russia to Ban Genetically Modified Organisms in Food Production. Themoscowtimes.com, accessed 7th October 2015
  5. GM Crop ban. News.scotland.gov.uk, accessed 7th October 2015 http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/GM-crop-ban-1bd2.aspx
  6. Letter to Scottish Government from research organisations. Senseaboutscience.org, accessed 7th October 2015 http://www.senseaboutscience.org/news.php/451/letter-to-scottish-government-from-research-organisations#sthash.PPSTWQSv.dpuf
  7. Saunders PT. Open letter in support of Scotland’s ban on GMOs. Science in Society 68 2015.
  8. Global Scientists Support Scottish GM Crops Ban. Sustainablepulse.com, accessed 7th October 2015 http://sustainablepulse.com/2015/09/03/global-scientists-support-scottish-gm-crop-ban/#.VhUW6_lVhBc
  9. Cuhra M. Review of GMO safety assessment studies: glyphosate residues in Roundup Ready crops is an ignored issue. Environmental Sciences Europe 2015, 27, 20  doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0052-7
  10. Swanson N and Ho MW. Scandal of glyphosate reassessment in Europe. Science in Society 63, 8-9, 2014
  11. Statement: No scientific consensus on GMO safety. Science in Society 60, 46-49
  12. Ho MW & Sirinathsinghji E.Ban GMOsNow.Health and Environmental Hazards Especially in Light of the New Genetics. ISIS Special Report, 2013.http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now.php
  13. Cultivation Directive (EU) 2015/412; exclusion of the German territory from the cultivation of certain genetically modified foods. Ec.europa.eu, accessed 7th October 2015 http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/docs/gmo_auth_cult_de_1507.pdf
  14. Sirinathsinghji E. Fallout from WHO Classification of Glyphosate as Probable Carcinogen, Science in Society 67
  15. Ho MW. Ending GMOs now, Science in Society 66
  16. “Monsanto slashing 2,600 jobs as corn sales slide”, Benjamin Snyder, Fortune, 7 October 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/10/07/monsanto-cutting-2600-jobs/
  17. “Monsanto’s stock is tanking. Is the company’s excitement about GMOs backfiring?” Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, 9 October 2015, http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/10/monsanto-stock-decline-layoffs
  18. “U.S. soybean, corn prices seen dropping below production costs: industry”, Naveen Thukral, Reuters, 27 August 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/27/us-us-grains-prices-idUSKCN0QW14420150827
  19. “Monsanto abandons $48 billion takeover of Syngenta”, Andrew Pollack and Michael J. de la Merced, The New York Times, 26 August 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/business/dealbook/monsanto-abandons-47-billion-takeover-bid-for-syngenta.html?_r=0
  20. “6 takeaways from Monsanto’s quarterly earnings”, Lauren Gensler, Forbes, 7 October 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2015/10/07/monsanto-fourth-quarter-earnings-commodities-corn/
  21. “GM crops now banned in 38 countries worldwide – Sustainable Pulse Research”, 22 October 2015, http://sustainablepulse.com/2015/10/22/gm-crops-now-banned-in-36-countries-worldwide-sustainable-pulse-research/#.VjI7fq0nzIU
  22. Ho MW. Africa unites against GM to opt for self-sufficiency. Science in Society 17, 4+9, 2002.
  23. Sirinathsinghji E. Bt cotton directly linked to Indian farmer suicides in rain-fed areas. Science in Society 67, 24-27, 2015.
  24. “Wily pink bollworm survives Monsanto’s Bollgard II”, Kv Kurmananth, The Hindu, 28 October 2015, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/wily-pink-bollworm-survives-monsantos-bollgardii/article7814810.ece
  25. “Swelling input costs push Telangana and AP cotton farmers to traditional hybrid varieties”, Raji Reddy Kesireddy, Economic Times (India) 29 October 2015, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/swelling-input-costs-push-telangana-and-ap-cotton-farmers-to-traditional-hybrid-varieties/articleshow/49576845.cms
  26.  “Anti-GMO backlash threatens US beet farmers”, Chris Prentice, Reuters, 29 October 2015, http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSL1N12C0Z520151029?rpc=401&
  27. “Parliament rejects national GMO bans proposal”, European Parliament News, 28 October 2015. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20151022IPR98805/html/Parliament-rejects-national-GMO-bans-proposal
  28. “Monsanto to shutter three R&D centres, cut 90 jobs”, P. J. Huffstutter, Reuters, 26 October 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/26/us-usa-monsanto-layoffs-idUSKCN0SK2QL20151026

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Santhanam R. Comment left 15th October 2015 07:07:53
In India, we have proven the redundancy of GMO in several crops like cotton, which engineers the BT toxin.While nature has developed more pests resistant to BT toxin, with Vedic sciences these pests were also repulsed.Swami Valmiki Sreenivasa Ayyangarya is the scientist who has mastered the ancient alchemy called Rasa Vada and many aspects of Vedic Sciences long lost, now buried in texts written in Sanskrit language whose nuances are lost, since languages also evolve! He has applied his technology which he has named as Keshav Krishi, in tea, coffee plantations, Indian Gooseberry /amla orchards, mango, pomegranate and many other crops, including rice, pulses and spices. The Government of India has also taken a cautionary approach after protests by Civil society organisations, environmentalists and the general public, but is not yet fully convinced, since the chemical lobby is very strong in Ministry of Agriculture.

Rory Short Comment left 14th October 2015 18:06:06
At last, I hope this foreshadows the end of Monsanto in its GMO guise.

Todd Millions Comment left 15th October 2015 07:07:15
"Until you see a French politician turning green in his coffin,you cannot say he is too old."- Marcel Chalet (via-'Spycatcher' by P. Wright). These bans are hopeful but incomplete too the requirements of the situation. Complete and residue tested bans on 'Desiccants' and 'Post emergent ammonia application(at harvest too make the poison penetrate better.) are also required.Organic certified lands can be sprayed via these loop holes-and 3 years after,officially be returned too organic status. The Agtox mafia is becoming desperate and so therefore are their prepaid political whores. We can see this in Canaduh by the improved grade of hidden source PR. These efforts are -private/public-'partnerships'!

Alfredo Comment left 3rd November 2015 18:06:42
Please read the wprks of Professor Eguiazu the grounder of the technopathogenology.Professor Eguiazu shows a preventive way to avoid the side effects of the technology.He dennounced the side effects of the pesticides in Argentina in the "First Congress of Ecotoxicology" held in year 1988 in Aprin in the City of Buenos Aires. Professor Eguyiazu was a former researcher of the National Research Council and Professor in the National University in Rosario. He founded an Institute the Institute of Biological Quality and Ecotoxicology(INCABIE) and the Cathedra of Environmental Technogeny and the specific science the technopathogenology . In the year 2002 his Institute was eliminated with violence.

Alfredo Comment left 10th November 2015 23:11:15
Prof Eguiazu developed a "aflatoxin free corn cultivar"He used only a pool of ancients cultivars of the Puna in NW Argentina (Provinces of Salta and Jujuy).He developed a storage methodology in a "controlled clima chamber".The corn grains were storaged in hard conditons to develop a spontaneus infection of Aspergillus flavus/parasíticus, and the most grains lost the germinative power. With the few grains that support this aggresive storage Prof Eguiazu obtained individual plants and new seeds. He repeated the process during 12 years. At the end the obtained cultivar was total resistent to the aflatoxin producent moulds. The cultivar was required to Eguiazu to be reproduced in the official farm of the university. In a year was totally destroyed. It is the end of the initiatives to develop a true organic farming in middle of the offical science.

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