Free Trade and the Deregulation of Genetically Modified Foods


In a ruling that favors free trade and rejects certain harsh controls over biotechnology patents, a European court has dismissed Monsanto's lawsuit that attempted to block the import of genetically modified (GM) soybeans from Argentina, where the company doesn't enjoy a government-protected monopoly over its product. The court said that patent protections do not apply to seeds once they have been harvested. According to The Wall Street Journal:

The European Court of Justice Tuesday ruled that European Union patent law can't be used to bar imports of products made from biotech ingredients that are patented in the EU but not in the exporting country.

The decision could open the door for increased exports to the EU by producers of biotech products in emerging-market countries that have weaker patent protection.…

Monsanto Co., the St. Louis-based company that is the world's biggest seed maker, owns the patent for the DNA sequence incorporated into this type of soybean seeds, called Roundup Ready. This genetic modification allows farmers to protect soybean crops from weeds by spraying glyphosate without destroying the crop itself.

After Monsanto failed to earn patent protection in Argentina for its genetically modified Roundup Ready soybean, it ceased selling the seeds there. However, farmers continued to use the seeds produced every year from their crops, without paying the royalties Monsanto says it is due.

Monsanto went on the offensive by taking its complaint to the EU. In 2005, Monsanto attempted to stop imports of soy meal made with its soybeans by suing importers in a court in the Netherlands. The Dutch court referred the case to the ECJ.

Meanwhile, the BBC is running an op-ed calling for deregulation of the GM foods industry:

But monopoly is bad for everyone. Here's a part solution; deregulate GM.

If it costs more than $20m (£13m) to get regulatory approval for one transgene, lots of little GM-based solutions to lots of problems will be too expensive and therefore not deployed, and the public sector and small start-up companies will not make the contribution they could.

Never before has such excessive regulation been created in response to (still) purely hypothetical risks.

The cost of this regulation—demanded by green campaigners—has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.

The EU parliament also rejected a proposal to require labels on products made from animals that were given GM feed. While this might all sound like good news, Europeans still seem to have a thing for banning foods that they see as being produced using too much human intervention. The EU recently upheld a ban on foods produced from cloned animals.

You can read more on GM foods from Reason's Ronald Bailey.