Mar. 6, 2017
● 17 new GM product varieties approved
● Dispute on Monsanto patent fee
● GMO icebreaking in EU, relaxed GMO policy expected in UK after Brexit
● US GMF labeling
Since 2015, the GM crop planting area has dropped for the first time after a 19-year continuous increase due to the fall of crop prices and the reduction of global crop growing area, resulting in a decrease of 5 million acres over 2014.
Of this the United States (US) experienced the largest decrease at 5.40 million acres. Thanks to the good climate this year, the general crop growing area in the US has increased by five million acres and the GMO growing area is expected to rebound to a certain degree. Worldwide GM crops have developed quite well in 2016, when GM crops of Monsanto and Syngenta have obtained the European Union’s (EU’s) import license, which is a GMO icebreaking in the EU.
Furthermore, GMO’s policies in Africa have begun to be relaxed, and a large number of countries are expected to begin growing of GM crops. However, there is still a lot of problems existing with GMO development, such as the increasingly serious issue of resistance and the decreased cotton fiber content of Bt GM cotton, which still need to be tackled. In this publication, global GMO hot issues in 2016 are summarized and analyzed by AgroPages.
1. There are 17 new GM product varieties being approved where multiple trait and resistance control have become mainstream
In 2016 (until December 22, 2016), a total of 107 kinds of GM crops were approved worldwide, which involve 68 varieties, of which 17 new GM crop varieties were approved (Table 1), including potato (three varieties), apple (one variety), cotton (two varieties), corn (four varieties), rapeseed (six varieties) and soybean (one variety). All the newly approved GM varieties are of complex traits, which show the present orientation of mainstream GMO development – multiple trait and resistance control.
Long and continued use of the same pesticide will usually cause bacteria or insect pest to become resistant, which greatly reduces the efficacy of the pesticide. Monsanto’s glyphosate
-resistant GMO is a typical example. Under the long-time use of single glyphosate, weeds are apt to become resistant. In case of abuse of glyphosate such as the use of larger dosage, weeds will become more and more resistant, which may lead to emergence of super weeds. Similarly, single insect pest gene-resistant GM crop may also cause bacteria or insect pest to become resistant. Therefore all multinationals are conducting research into the development of resistance traits of different action mechanisms so as to reduce emergence of resistant bacteria, insect pest and weed. This year, Monsanto released a GM corn which is resistant to glyphosate and dicamba, and alternative use of glyphosate and dicamba will alleviate the problem of glyphosate resistance to certain extent. This July Dow AgroSciences released the PowerCore trait technology in the US, which integrates three different kinds of Bt proteins. Because of the different action mechanisms of the three proteins and the different target sites on insect, the technology can provide a broad-spectrum insect pest control mechanism and it helps to reduce potential emergence of resistance from insect pest. Monsanto’s Bollgard III GM cotton, which is approved in Australia this year has three different kinds of Bt proteins, can kill caterpillars in three different ways, and thus extends the insect pest-resistant capability of cotton varieties.
2. Dispute on Monsanto patent fee
Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world, and world famous for its GM crops. For many years in the past, the company has been confronted with the issue of patent fees which developing countries are charged, especially in India and Argentina in 2016.
According to ISAAA, the sales of GM seed in Argentina have continued to grow, where the GM crop planting area accounted for 13.6 percent of the total of the global biotech crops last year. However, as the Argentinian government allows farmers to retain Monsanto’s GM soybean seed for replantation, it results in a widespread illegal planting situation.
Concerning the new generation GM seed Intacta RR2, Monsanto has obviously wanted to charge more patent fees from the Argentinian market. This May the company expressed consideration of suspension of its GM soybean business in Argentina, but followed up with a joint announcement of a concession agreement having being reached between Monsanto and the Argentinian government at the end of June. The agreement involves an agreed payment of patent fees for Intacta GM soybean.
According to the agreement, the Argentine seed research institution Inase will take charge of supervision of illegal use of Monsanto’s GM soybean seed Intacta, and will allow Monsanto’s representative to conduct inspections of some of the corn exchange marketplaces. However, no agreement has been reached yet between the two sides regarding the latest GM soybean Xtend. This October, Monsanto announced suspension of its Xtend program and destroyed relevant documentations.
In India, Monsanto faces a similar situation. While Monsanto has cooperated with its joint venture partner Mahyco in introduction of Bt insect-resistant cotton into India to help India to become the world’s largest cotton fiber producing country and the second largest cotton fiber export country, Monsanto has actually monopolized Indian cotton seed market, which causes seed prices to rise 80 times. At the beginning of the year, the4 Indian government received complaints from a number of seed companies on the high amount of patent fees charged by Mahyco. As a response, Indian government issued a decree requesting Monsanto to delegate its local partner to implement a 70 percent reduction of the patent fees, as well to restrict the selling price of the Bt GM cotton. Thereafter in May, the Indian government announced imposition of further restrictive policies on GM seed providers, where implementation of a ceiling price of patent fees was implemented. Also multinationals are not allowed to deny a license to any domestic companies. In face of the tough policies from the Indian government, Monsanto threatened to retreat from Indian market. Syngenta also wished to reconsider its positioning of the Indian GMO market. After being opposed by all multinationals, the Indian government temporarily cancelled the resolutions, and decided to hear more feedback information from relevant parties of interest. The feedback information is currently under review.
As a countermeasure, this August Monsanto revoked its application to the Indian government for the next-generation GM cotton seed, resulting in the long-existing dispute between the two sides becoming more intensified. In the meantime, because the cotton fiber content of GM cotton in Indian market has dropped significantly and the control efficacy on other insect pests (white fly and leaf roll) becomes very doubtful, India’s cotton planting area in the 2016-2017 planting season has decreased 12 percent, having dropped from the 11.50 million hectares down to the 10.20 million hectares this year. The revocation of the new-generation GM cotton has delayed Monsanto’s planned release of the new GM cotton in Indian market for several years, which will result in further losses. On the other side, the Indian government is destined to face more pressure. The effort of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase attractions for foreign investment in India has thus been jeopardized. How the confrontation between the two sides will move in the future will be worth watching.
3. GMO icebreaking in EU, relaxed GMO policy expected in UK after Brexit
Europe is one of the strictest countries on the GMO product, where GMO is always treated with high degree of prudence. However, there have been various signs that the concerns over GMO safeness are being relaxed. In July this year, the European Commission announced approval of import of the GM soybean Roundup Ready 2 Xtend developed by Monsanto and the soybean Balance GT developed by Bayer and MS Technologies. Two months later, the European Commission approved 11 kinds of GM corn of Syngenta. The import of all these GM products are valid for 10 years, not allowed for planting but only for use in food or animal feed, and meanwhile all products containing GMO should comply with the labeling and traceability requirement. Moreover, the high oleic acid herbicide-resistant GM soybean 305423 × 40-3- 2 of DuPont and the insect-resistant soybean DAS-81419 of Dow AgroSciences have obtained positive appraisal of European Food Safety Authority, being expected to be approved for use in food and feed, as well as for import for use in processing.
In general, GMO is promoted in the EU in a very prudent manner. This June, the Swiss government passed an injunction against GMO extension, to be valid up until 2021. However, government has suggested establishment of a special GM crop planting zone in the future. This November, the German government passed a resolution to prohibit GM crop planting, which is expected to become officially effective from spring 2017. Furthermore, although the European Commission is active on GMO promotions, proposals in this regard are very often voted down by the EU parliament. For example, the European Commission wanted to approve import and distribution of GM carnation as well as three kinds of GM corns, but they were all voted down by the parliament. Since this year, the EU parliament have voted down GM promotion proposals on five occasions.
This June, the referendum took place in the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the EU. There is no doubt that Brexit will greatly impact British agriculture. However, so far as GMO is concerned, Brexit relieves UK from the obliged agro technical regulations, including the rules on GM seed and pesticide applications. So there is a hope of emergence of GMO technology in the UK. Syngenta’s CEO Erik Fyrwald holds the view that EU’s supervisory process is getting more and more political and UK after Brexit will build up a science-based new system which provides chances of consideration of the use of new techniques to upgrade UK’s farming competitiveness. Erik Fyrwald is of the opinion that the approval of import of GM product to UK will become easier although chances of allowing for planting of GM crops are not big.
4. US GMF labeling
In this July, the considerable controversy on GMF labeling in US has come to a close. US President Barack Obama signed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which put an end to the five-year long protracted debate. The Standard requests mandatory labeling of foodstuff containing GMO ingredients, but food stuff producers can select one of any of the three ways – language descriptions, GMO ingredients graphs (to be specified by FDA) and electronic link to QR code. Although labeling becomes mandatory, the way of expression in QR code is unsatisfactory to non-governmental environmental protection organizations in the US, who regard the Standard as a compromise in favor of large enterprises. QR code is much disputed in the US because it is not something that ordinary Americans would use in their daily life, and there is not a good app to help people to scan the code, which is especially something very new to poor people. The critics of the Standard think that the use of QR code instead of straightforward language description is playing around on consumers. Nevertheless, the Standard has become an exclusive nation-wide standard in the US, and a new consumption habit and concept on GMF may arise.
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