By Brandon Mitchener
Under the European Union’s newly updated law on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) seeds within the Union, individual EU member states have the option to “opt out” of the scope of the authorisation for the cultivation of individual GM “events” (traits) on their national territory, or even just part of it. Since Monsanto and other companies who sell GM seeds globally or intend to sell them are responsible for securing authorisation for the sale of those seeds, we were given the opportunity to object to these requests.
As of the expiration of the start of November, when the deadline for our response to those requests ran out, Monsanto has not opposed any of the requests received. Our longstanding approach is that we will only sell GM seeds in countries where they enjoy broad political support, strong farmer demand and where their authorisation is governed by science-based decision making.
Unfortunately, that meant acknowledging the opt-out request even in countries where some farmers did want to plant GM seeds, because the other conditions—broad political support and science-based decision-making—were not met.
Indeed, we took the occasion of our official responses to the opt-out requests by EU member states to express our disappointment, and that of many other observers, that the EU’s rules fly in the face of sound science and that populist decisions harm European farmers and consumers alike by denying them access to a safe technology being used by farmers around the world to help produce food more sustainably.
Our Nov. 3, 2015 response to Italy, whose Po Valley includes rich farmlands and also suffers serious attacks by destructive pests that could be mitigated by the use of Bt maize, stated:
Multiple regulatory agencies around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have concluded that MON 810 is unlikely to have adverse effects on humans, animals or the environment. This conclusion has been confirmed by the experiences during almost 20 years of widespread commercial cultivation globally, including 11 years in the EU. Italy’s request to prohibit MON 810 cultivation on its territory contradicts and undermines the scientific consensus on the safety of MON 810 and its long history of safe use. We regret to conclude that Italy is deviating from a science-based approach and has elected to prohibit MON 810 cultivation on arbitrary political grounds. We consider this decision to be disproportionate and discriminatory.
Moreover, we added,
“arbitrary political decisions to reject the cultivation of GM crops deny European farmers the right to choose to use safe, innovative agricultural technologies to enhance productivity in a sustainable and economic manner. More specifically, the demand to have its whole territory excluded from cultivation of maize MON 810 illustrates Italy’s political choice of denying farmers in several regions of the country (e.g. the Po Valley) access to a technology that presents important economical, human and animal health and environmental advantages as presented in numerous peer reviewed articles, , .
Similar responses were sent to other EU member states requesting opt-outs from GM seed cultivation.
Although Monsanto’s business in Europe is and long has been focused squarely on traditional, non-GM seeds (GM seeds represent less than half of a percent of our sales in the EU), we are disappointed that European governments including Italy decided to opt out for populist reasons.
The only silver lining in this antediluvian cloud over Europe’s farmers is that some member states—including Spain, Portugal, Romania and the Czech Republic—did not request to opt out. Spain and Portugal have long since embraced GM crops, while Romania and the Czech Republic have grown them in the past. We hope that other countries in Europe will eventually acknowledge the clear benefits that they provide.
For more information, please see our previous blog post on this subject.
 EFSA, 2009. Scientific Opinion on the Applications for renewal of authorisation for the continued marketing of (1) existing food and food ingredients produced from genetically modified maize MON 810; (2) feed consisting of and/or containing maize MON 810, including the use of seed for cultivation; and of (3) food and feed additives, and feed materials produced from maize MON 810, all under Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 from Monsanto; http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1149.htm
 Dowd, 2003. Insect management to facilitate preharvest mycotoxin management. J. Toxicol. Toxin. Rev. 22, 327–350.
 Papst et al., 2005. Mycotoxins produced by Fusarium spp. in isogenic Bt vs. non Bt maize hybrids under European corn borer pressure. Agron. J. 97, 219–224.
 Meissle et al., 2010. Pests, pesticide use and alternative options in European maize production: current status and future prospects. Journal of Applied Entomology. Vol. 134, 357-375.