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What It Means That Monsanto Will Stop Pushing GMOs in Europe

Celebrate, but for the right reasons.
Protestors via Karen Eliot/Creative Commons

If you didn't catch the news on Thursday: Monsanto, the much-reviled transnational agriculture consort, will cease its attempts to bring more genetically modified crops into the European farming market. Monsanto has one GM crop approved to cultivate in only a few places in Europe, the corn MON810, while BASF Plant Science, a smaller GMO concern owned by the massive German chemical company BASF, has one GM potato approved. That's it and going forward, that will be the end of it. At least for Monsanto. That's good but not because it's keeping GMOs out of Europe.

It's good because it's keeping a giant, ugly corporation that means bad things for agriculture and the future of food on Earth out of Europe. Practically, Monsanto weilds outsize influence on matters of food/food chain safety and punishes small/smaller farmers, both by owning and, thus, dictating the planet's agricultural markets and through nasty shit like GMO patents. Patents are one of the genuinely bad things about genetic modification generally and give purveyors like Monsanto the ability to totally patent an organism, from lab onward. Plant patents are nearly a century old in the United States—historically applying to hybrid plants, e.g. old-school genetic modification—but until recently still allowed farmers to save and use seeds. Not anymore. Thus, we wind up with situations like last fall's SCOTUS ruling against an Indiana farmer busted for using Monsanto seeds.

Thus, Monsanto staying out of Europe's agricultural market is good for Europe's food producers. Keeping GMOs generally out of Europe or anywhere is not, however, because GMOs are generally not evil or evil in principle. The emphasis in the sentence before this is crucial. Looking at GMOs as a giant all-inclusive group is pointless outside of ideological debate. (Should we screw with nature's genetic codes is an ideological question only, and one I am inclined to answer with "no." But that's an ideological answer having little to do with the immediate question of lessening starvation in the world.) The potential for very dangerous GMOs is definitely there, and the answer to that is to be beyond-rigorous in evaluating GMOs, especially with new technology like RNA interference.

Europe is still home to all sorts of sinister multinational corporations, and Monsanto and BASF will still do plenty of business on the continent, including selling feeds originating with GM crops. Monsanto's power to run agricultural markets in Europe isn't gone. The victory here is false, in fact. The real war isn't against the broad concept of genetic modification of crops, though that is mostly what's been waged. The war is against global, too-powerful agriculture. That's where the real danger is, the corporations themselves. As a corporation gets larger, the more power it has to influence regulation and policy. And that's how dangerous products, GMO or otherwise, get into the marketplace.

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