The settlement that was announced last week and awaits the approval of the court system involving a class action lawsuit by corn farmers against the agricultural chemical juggernaut, Syngenta, is just the tip of the iceberg involving international concerns over genetically modified crops.
The suit dealt with a strain of modified corn that Syngenta sold to the farmers under the guise that it was going to be grown for export to China. However, the big issue was that China had not approved that strain of GMO corn and Syngenta did not get approval prior to negotiating the deal with the farmers.
Ultimately, China rejected the import of millions of tons of the genetically modified strain of corn called Agrisure Viptera. This tremendous amount is what caused the settlement numbers in this case to multiply significantly.
The settlement is over $1.5 billion and, according to Reuters, would be the largest class action settlement for an agriculture case in American history. This whole case represents a larger problem with the conglomerates running the seed industry, with GMO containing products, and with the import and export of certain staple crops within the food supply.
Syngenta is now owned by ChemChina, in a merger that was well publicized recently and heavily debated because of the implications of Chinese ownership of a company which supplies products which are integral to the American food supply.
It should be noted that ninety percent of the U.S. corn crop supply is genetically modified.
This sadly, is one piece of a giant patchwork of international export deals involving GMO staple food sources, not only corn. It includes wheat, soybean, and sugar beet crops as well. It is nearly impossible to find a mainstream food product without the “made with genetic engineering” disclaimer on the label.
The international laws around GMO food products make for even more unknown variables. There are certain countries that do not require the disclosure of ingredients that are GMO containing and do not label crop sources that are genetically engineered.
The push for organic foods and organic staple crops is making a resurgence in some parts of the world but the main issue is that the farmland is already tainted from GMO seeds that it is very difficult to impossible to use that land for organic crops.
The seeds are already genetically altered for so many crops that even if a farmer used organic products to preserve and sustain the crops they would inherently contain GMOs. The most effective way to deal with GMOs is at the seed level and growing less crops of corn for ethanol use.
However, this also is easier stated than put into tangible action. The agricultural seed industry is dominated by a few conglomerates: Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. Monsanto controls over one quarter of the entire seed industry globally, and those three companies account for almost half of the entire global seed industry, which is a staggering figure.
That level of control into the hands of so few companies is a setback to any substantive progress being made with non-GM seeds. Then, consider further that all three of those enormous companies are in transition: Monsanto is in merger talks with Bayer, DuPont has merged with Dow, and Syngenta was merged with ChemChina in a $43 billion deal.
Some companies have taken the “Safe Seed Pledge” promising to not use GMO ingredients in their seeds, but they are used in smaller scale amounts for gardening and not for mass production. The scale up for the demands of the food supply make the reductions in GMO crops problematic.
The genetically modified trend is growing to impact fish and other livestock as well. It is presenting some moral and ethical questions along the way.
In a time period where social media and the internet has made for increased transparency, the international trade deals and ambiguous labeling laws for genetically engineered or modified foods make it incredibly difficult for people to know what they are eating.
The import of genetically modified ingredients is a whole other avenue where food products could become infiltrated with GMOs. The link between certain ingredients and genetic modification has been well established and internationally it is difficult to find alternate sources.
The United States got into the GMO crop scenario so deeply it is going to be hard to reverse course at this point. The European Union, by contrast, does not allow the sale of GMO food and produces it on a small percentage of their farmland for export purposes only.
The settlement by Syngenta over the failed exports to China is just one trade deal gone wrong. It is just one piece to the puzzle, it is the tip of the iceberg in a maze of deals centered on GMO products. The rest of those pieces will fall in future and the public questions about GMOs will continue and sadly the answers are not very promising.