When it comes to public perception of genetically modified products (GMOs), Europe and the U.S. are worlds apart.
More than 80 percent of all foods found in a typical American grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients. Efforts to push for regulations that would require companies like biotech giants, Monsanto and DuPont, to label items that contain genetically modified ingredients have failed in the wake of fierce lobbying by the pro-GMOs big agricultural industry, which spent more than $4.7 million in 2012 on lobbying alone.
In Europe, GMOs are banned in nine countries, including Poland, where the law went into effect in January. Other countries include Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria.
The bans, however, don’t necessarily mean that the country will be completely GMO-free. Protesters living near the northern German town of Gross Lusewitz have been active in exposing and destroying “research facility” crops, plump with vegetables that contain rabbit vaccines and plastic polymers.
Night raids on the crops by activists have been anything but silent. Discovery Magazine writer Gianni Barbieux describes a recent night raid as an intense act by six men who surrounded the field’s night watchmen. Before bolting to destroy the crops, the activists pepper-sprayed the watchman, took his flashlight and keys before smashing his cell phone.
Those leading the anti-GMO movement know what they’re doing is extreme, but stand by their actions. The leader of the Gendreck Weg (“Gene Trash Gone”), the nation’s largest anti-GMO activist network, is beekeeper Michael Grolm.
“We had to go out into the fields and do it in a very public way, so the population wouldn’t see us as criminals,” he told Discover Magazine. “Hundreds of police show up, and it’s interesting for the press too.”
The research is being conducted by the University of Rostock’s biology department, which is working in partnership with pro-GMO giants Monsanto and Syngenta to conduct field trials of the crops on university research land.
While Europe may be leading the world in its fight against GMOs, it actually served a major role in the introduction of GMOs on the global market. European universities led the way in the creation of GMO seeds for the commercial market, spurring a movement that snowballed in the United States.
More than 170 million acres of GMO crops were planted last year, with 93 percent of the soy market dominated by genetically engineered seeds.
America’s influence on big agriculture in Europe
While Europe is moving in a progressive direction, cables released by WikiLeaks indicate the U.S. planned to go on the offense to protect and export its agriculture industry, going so far as threatening retaliation for nations seeking to break from the big ag grip.
The memo was written by Craig Stapleton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to France from 2005 to 2009 and now co-owns the St. Louis Cardinals. The memo reads:
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measures rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interest and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices.”
That could be a hard sell in France, where in 2012, a French farmer made national headlines when he won his case against Monsanto after he claimed his neurological disorder was caused by the company’s pesticide products, which did not include proper warning labels.
Forty-seven-year-old Paul Francois is among more than 200 farmers in France who have reported illnesses believed to be linked to Monsanto’s pesticide exposure.
The loss for Monsanto was monumental, as the agribusiness giant’s deep pockets typically keep it out of trouble. Even after the ruling, Monsanto failed to acknowledge its role in Francois’ illness.
“Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois’ symptoms and potential poisoning,” the company’s lawyer Jean-Philippe Delsart told Reuters.