Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, plans to withdraw its applications for planting genetically modified crops in the European Union after more than a decade of hostility from consumers and governments.
The company informed the European Commission yesterday, said EU spokesman Frederic Vincent. St. Louis-based Monsanto accounted for most of the applications to grow genetically-modified crops pending with the commission, Vincent said by phone today from Brussels.
France, the EU’s largest corn grower, last year banned growing of Monsanto’s MON810 corn, which produces its own insecticide, citing risks to the environment, while Italy in April asked the EU to suspend approval to grow the crop. The EU makes up about 0.1 percent of the world biotech-crop area, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
“It’s clear there isn’t a path to market and commercialize GM products for cultivation in Europe,” said Mark Buckingham, a Monsanto spokesman in Cambourne, England. “We need to focus our limited resources where we can get the best return. In Europe, there are significant opportunities in conventional breeding.”
Monsanto fell 0.2 percent to $102.78 as of 10:09 a.m. in New York.
The company plans to withdraw applications for six corn varieties, as well as for a soybean and a sugar beet, according to Buckingham. Monsanto will keep its bid to renew approval for MON810 corn, which was previously approved in the EU, he said.
The decision doesn’t affect applications to import in the EU genetically modified products grown elsewhere, Buckingham said.
Monsanto’s MON810 is the only genetically modified crop grown commercially in the 28-nation EU. Spain, the bloc’s biggest grower of the variety, ranks 17th in the world in terms of area with genetically modified crops, behind Bolivia and Burkina Faso, according to the ISAAA.
“GM crops have proven themselves to be an ineffective and unpopular technology,” Herman Van Bekkem, sustainable farming campaigner at environmental lobby Greenpeace, was cited as saying in an e-mailed statement.
BASF SE last year announced it was moving its plant-science division that works on genetically modified crops to the U.S. from Germany, saying it didn’t make business sense to continue investing in products rejected by the majority of consumers in many parts of Europe.
“There is no market for GM crops in Europe,” Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, was cited as saying in a statement.
The EU on average takes about 3.7 years to approve the import of a genetically modified product, compared to 2 years for Brazil, according to industry lobby EuropaBio, which says opposition to biotech crops is based on “scaremongering” rather than rational debate.
A review by U.K. and Spanish researchers in the journal Trends in Plant Science last month said the EU’s resistance to genetically engineered crops is “ideological rather than scientific” and is making the bloc “increasingly uncompetitive and isolated in the international markets.”
France’s food-security authority in October called for more research on the long-term effects of genetically-modified crops, saying there is a lack of long-duration feeding studies in animals.