Monsanto went mainstream. No, said the market
FOR a company that takes its public relations quite seriously, Monsanto is going through a particularly bad patch. From the 50 per cent cutback in sales of its genetically modified (GM) bovine growth hormone in late February (the company had violated sterility standards) to the court hearing in Chicago over price fixing and the withdrawal of GM canola from Australia. But none is bigger than the withdrawal of its Roundup Ready wheat programme. It was the first effort by a company to enter the GM market with a cereal crop. Although wheat was a minor part of Monsanto's financial and R&D portfolio, its symbolic importance was unmistakable. It meant GM going mainstream.
What also sets the roll-back apart -- Monsanto terms it a deferment -- is that it resulted from consistent pressure from the biggest beneficiaries of GM crops till now, the farmers of North America, and not from protests of the anti-GM lobby. It was market pressure more than protest (see: Rounded up). This is perhaps the biggest, though symbolic, victory for those consumers' groups in Europe that have led the opposition to GM. Because the pressure they exerted, very often against the wishes of their own governments, is being felt by the US and Canadian farmers. Whether or not the European consumers are right in rejecting GM, it is now clear that the market takes them seriously.
That, unfortunately, can't be said about the consumers -- if you can call them that -- of the South. The sustained pressure from the US government on African countries to accept GM food aid is a case in point. A recent report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation has driven home an important point: that though agri-biotech holds "clear promise" to alleviate global hunger, this promise is more theory than reality. Because very little money is allocated to techniques beneficial to subsistence farmers of the South. Perhaps Monsanto needs to have another look at its budget allocations for public relations and for suing farmers.
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