Monsanto, the largest seller of genetically modified (GM) seeds worldwide, announced this spring that it would shelve plans to market a strain of wheat genetically modified to resist the herbicide Roundup.
The strongest opposition to the GM wheat came from Europe and Japan, the two main purchasers of U.S. wheat. Buyers said they would not buy GM wheat, because their consumers would not want it. Some buyers said they would not buy any wheat from the United States if GM wheat were introduced here, because of fear of cross-contamination of non-GM wheat with the GM variety. This potential boycott led US and Canadian farmers to join the opposition to Monsanto's GM wheat.
In recent years, Monsanto also dropped plans for GM potatoes—because fast-food chains refused to buy them—and GM crops raised to create pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, the acreage of existing GM crops continues to grow in the U.S. and worldwide. In the next few years, Monsanto plans to focus on GM corn, cotton, and soybeans, which tend to be less controversial because they can be used for animal feed or oil rather than human food. Monsanto says that it has not ruled out selling GM wheat in the future. The current U.S. case at the World Trade Organization against the European Union over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could result in trade sanctions for any country boycotting them.
In April, Vermont became the first state to regulate GMOs when Republican Governor James Douglas signed the Farmer's Right-to-Know Seed Labeling Bill. Under the bill, manufacturers must label GM seeds and report sales of GM seeds to state authorities.
Meanwhile, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources became law on June 29. This law protects plant genetic material of value for agriculture and limits the right of corporations to control access to 64 of the most important food and fodder crops. A diverse gene pool helps ensure that plant species can adapt to pests or climate change.
The treaty, facilitated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, remains ambiguous about the right to patent genetic material and organisms. The treaty states that no patents may be taken out on the genetic resources covered by the treaty. However, the wording could allow for privatization of resources that have been genetically modified.