GM progress being made in Europe, says Monsanto chief

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Monsanto, Genetically modified food

Europe is edging slowly towards GM acceptance, according to
Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, who underscored the continent's strategic
importance and said his company is laying the groundwork should a
policy-change come to pass.

Grant's comments, reported in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, were made at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York yesterday. The newspaper cited Grant as saying Monsanto does not count on broad regulatory approvals in its financial projections, but the at the company is "laying the groundwork to take advantage of policy change if one should come". ​European consumers been averse to genetically-modified foods since the concept was introduced in the 1990s, and acceptance has not been helped by the EU's slow approvals process. The last time a crop was actually positively approved was in 1998. Three crops, one from Monsanto and two from a Pioneer-Dow AgroSciences joint venture, are up for debate next week. These do not seek the go ahead for cultivation in the EU, but rather for crops grown elsewhere to be used in feed and food processing in the bloc. But Grant expects that farmers will play a key role in encouraging acceptance. Biotech crops are being planted in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. "When farmers actually experience [the performance of GM crops] on their farm and their field, they don't go back,"​ he said. "…From a farm perspective there is significant progress." ​ However earlier this month Germany tightened its restrictions on GM corn. A letter from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to Monsanto leaked to the media reportedly said that GM corn MON 810 can only be delivered to third parties if accompanied by a plan for monitoring its environmental effects. Until now Mon 810 seed has been legally sold in German, but the letter has been interpreted as, effectively, a ban. Grant also gave an insight into his vision of Monsanto's future, which is likely to be determined more by sales of biotech crops than chemical pesticides and fertilisers. But rather than being engineered to have one useful trait, in the future they will have multiple traits - stacked up so that they can deal with a multitude of environmental difficulties at once. Monsanto has already staked a claim in gene stacking. Last week it announced a three-year joint research programme with gene technology expert Chromatin to develop ways of increasing the number of modified genes that can be inserted into crops. The agreement provides for extension as necessary. This came on the back of a similar agreement earlier this year with German chemical giant BASF, fund a pipeline of yield and stress tolerance traits for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola via a dedicated joint budget of potentially $1.5bn (€1.2bn). The first product developed as a result of the agreement with BASF is expected to be commercialized in the first half of the next decade.

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