Mihaela Vasile is a Corporate Engagement & Government Relations Manager-Monsanto România and she was more than a willing to answer me on a few questions about the situation in Europe and in the Balkan region.
What do you think about The March against Monsanto and food labelling?
This march is against of all global agriculture companies, but there is nice to have a “black sheep” that carry everything on its shoulders.
We know perspectives on food and agriculture differ, and we respect and value everyone’s right to express their point of view. We are also committed to ensuring that people can get accurate answers to their questions about agriculture and about Monsanto.
Speaking about food labelling, we support voluntary, marketing labels for those companies who want to distinguish their non-GM food from their GM food so long as the label is truthful and does not mislead consumers. We oppose current initiatives to mandate labelling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labelling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.
Europe legislation – EU regulations specifies: “these labelling requirements do not apply to GM food/feed products in a proportion no higher than 0.9 percent of the food/feed ingredients considered individually and if this presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable”
Do you consume GM food or food which contains GM ingredients and does GM food has all the same nutritional values as organic?
We all consume GM food or food which most probably contains GM ingredients. This fact is happens wherever GM food & feed are approved for import, processing and use in food and feed. In the EU, there are more than 58 different GM trait events which are approved in this scope to that end.
Especially when it comes to food, we need to know that the livestock industry cannot survive without protein – and protein comes mainly from soybean crops. In EU, farmers plant only 5% of what is really needed, as conventional or organic soybeans. Therefore, they must to import soybeans and soybean meal from other countries, like USA, Brazil, and Argentina. In those countries, GM soybeans cover about 90% of the total soybean area. If these imports are not allowed, the livestock industry would be blocked here in Europe and we would need to import meat, and therefore European consumers will need to pay a higher price. Hundreds of millions of meals containing food from GM crops have been consumed. There has not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm associated with GM crops.
Coming to nutritional values, there are hundreds of studies made in EU or in other international markets which are underlining that the GM varieties are “essentially equivalent in composition and nutritional value to its conventional variety”
President Obama signed “Monsanto Protection Law“ even if his citizens wanted freedom of choice. What do you think about that?
This is actually about the Farmer Assurance Provision, section 735 which was included in the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations” law signed by the President Obama in March 2013 and available until the end of the US fiscal year, September 30th, 2013. This provision has just represented a small part included into the huge agricultural spending bill.
That provision was related to those biotech crops already approved by the USDA and court reversed that approval. Based on it, for the request of farmers, growers or seed producers, it could be released a temporary use while legal challenges regarding the safety of those crops would still be evaluated.
We all can notice so many negative things written and said about Monsanto why is so hard for Monsanto to improve its reputation, is that possible and how you are planning to do that?
Monsanto was the first global seed company developing biotechnologies, because it wanted to help farmers to produce more, without the difficulty of dealing with pests and weeds. By using those seeds, they would have to spray fewer plant protection products on their crops. Such crops could have also been produced by conventional breeding, but this would have taken too many production cycles. In recent years, the name Monsanto has come to be associated with the notions of biotechnology or genetic modification. We should all realize that biotech products are also to be found in medicine (insulin is an example of a product without which persons suffering from diabetes could not survive; another example is gene therapy). Biotechnology has been adopted in agriculture as a new stage of research, because breeders have noticed that modifications can be made at the level of a plant gene, since the plant is a living organism, which contains DNA and genetic information. There are many private and public companies around the world which produce biotech seeds that are resistant to various diseases or pests.
In the future, like as we have begun since 2013, we become much more vocal and present on virtual spaces, for instance, in our daily work. Just consider our online presence, on Facebook or on our blogs – both in the US and in Europe. Thus, I encourage you and your readers to visit both blogs, as our business is different here in Europe, compared to the US, since here, we market conventional seeds in most cases.
How GMOs can be good for our environment , our “green” lifestyle and how for vegetarians?
Maybe here is place for another question, if you agree, like “GMOs can be good for our health?” When is about children death due to Vitamin A deficiency , starting with 2005 it is in place a public-private partnership named “Golden Rice Project”. It is actually a white rice transgenic improved to produce and accumulate more Vitamin A (beta-carotene), which become a yellow rice. When this yellow rice (Golden Rice) will get all the regulatory approval, many children from developing countries could not die anymore.. Most recently, this project won the Patents for Humanity Award 2015.
Now, coming back to your question, regarding GM and environment, we all need to understand that they need less spraying, depending on their resistance traits. There are GM seeds which are resistant to various pests (thus fewer insecticides) and others which are glyphosate-tolerant (one herbicide for all weeds’ types and not so many spraying like for a conventional crop).
An example of what is allowed in the EU for planting is the MON810 – a GM corn variety resistant to the European corn borer, which received its planting approval in 1998.
The European corn borer is a continental insect which can damage leaves and stalks. The MON810 corn provides two advantages: lower content of mycotoxins than its conventional counterpart and therefore higher yields. This is possible because this type of corn is not vulnerable to the ECB.
In 2012, the EU grew more than 129,000 hectares of MON 810. The main production countries were Spain and Portugal, totalling 125,585 hectares, followed by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania.
Does Monsanto controls world’s food supply as we can hear and if not why people talking about it?
This is one of the most famous unreal myths about Monsanto. While Monsanto is strong in a few crops such as maize, rapeseed, cotton and soybeans and vegetables, our seeds represent less than five percent of the seeds planted worldwide. About two-thirds of seed planted globally is non-commercial, farmer-saved seed. Of that commercial seed market, two-thirds of the seed volume comes from private breeding programs and one-third from national or public institutions. More than 1,000 separate seed companies supply the commercial seed market.
There are global companies from other industries which have more than 80% of the market in OS for smart phones and, till now, I didn’t heard someone to blame them that are controlling Operating Systems market.
Can Monsanto stop worlds hunger and how?
As I have mentioned above, our seeds are covering only 5% at global level from what is on the seed market. Our portfolio includes seeds like corn, soybean, oil seed rape (canola), cotton, and vegetables. We are helping farmers to produce more by using more efficient our natural resources, for example water. Therefore, our products are just part of world’s hunger. There are many other products, commodities produced and processed by other companies which can support the world’s hunger and we need, all together, to help for improving consumers’ lives with more nutritious food and have a daily balanced diet.
We can inform citizens, but are they educated enough about what and who Monsanto is and how the media were or are wrong? There are so many documentaries which are against Monsanto , why is that?
There is a familiar saying – “don’t judge before you know”.
So, when there is about citizens, we talk about two types of public: the farmers or beneficiaries of our products and the consumers. The former are very supportive of the Dekalb seeds (our seed brand) – and by that I do not mean only biotech products, but also conventional (traditional) seeds. This favourable view is due to the fact that these seeds help them (farmers) improve their yields and produce better crops. We are thankful that thousands of farmers, large and small, all around the world, continue to choose our products.
As to the general public – or the end consumer –, it is true that the seed industry still has a lot of work to do, as agriculture is a rather technical field. However, Monsanto should not be the only voice here, but all companies working in this industry. And now, with the IT access, each person could find real facts about GM, if they are looking for some.
“If you are contaminated against your wishes you no longer own your seeds, plants, they become the ownerships of Monsanto under the Patent Law“. Whey there is no any balance and more help for farmers who are contaminated against their wish?
The Patent Law is related to different innovative products, from the well-known zipper till seeds. When a person or a company invests years for a product research & development, submits for regulatory approvals and spends thousand or millions of dollars for get it ready, I consider there is more then fair to have a return of investment. We also need to consider, that a patent has due to date expiration, mentioned on the patent document.
Monsanto annually invests around $4 millions for research and development for having ready a full pipeline for its farmer-partners. This pipeline covers more than seed portfolio, but also agronomic solutions, new platforms.
In our case, each farmer, which buys seeds that are under patent law, is signing a technological agreement. In this document is mentioned: legislation in place, isolation distance from other similar crops, and that he needs to sell or use into its livestock the harvest achieved, and he is not allowed to replanted seeds from the harvest get, etc. Even if it is no about patented seeds and the seeds are hybrids, farmers know that a crop life is based on Mendel law of segregation.Coming back to your question, there is a well-know court case, where Monsanto won it, 3 times in a row. Actually, that farmer said that he found in this field some unwanted canola seeds, he harvested them and deliberately replanted in the next crop season. When he sprayed it with Roundup (gliphosate herbicide), its canola lived, and not only a few plants, but mostly plants, as this type of canola was Roundup resistance (GM tolerance). Therefore, this farmer preferred to use his harvest seeds and replanted, instead of buying new ones.
In the world are countless crops’ varieties which are not under Patent law and we respect farmer’s decisions for what they choose to plant.
“Monsanto did not invent Agent Orange. The U.S government order Monsanto, along with 9 other companies to make Agent Orange for US military use“. On the other side we can hear that Monsanto controls US government. So many conspiracy theories, but if we cannot trust to scientist, researching and innovations are we in danger of missing something that could be good?
The former Monsanto was one of nine companies that manufactured Agent Orange for the government. The nine Agent Orange manufacturers were government contractors acting at the direction of the government which was exercising its authority under the War Powers Act. The government set the manufacturing specifications for Agent Orange, and decided when, where and how it was used. Agent Orange was only made for military use by the government.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that the companies were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange because the war materials were supplied at the direction of the U.S. government.
If you could turn back time is there anything you would like to change about Monsanto?
Yep… good question… I would like Monsanto to have been more vocal in its relationship with citizens, as it began to be now…. why? Because I’m confident that Monsanto was and is releasing on the markets only those products that have fully regulatory approvals, even if we need to wait many years for such an approval.
For the end of this interview if I missed to ask something, you can ask yourself a question and answer on it now.
Instead of conclusion, please let me to present you in a short way our company at European level and national ones.In Europe, we are 3,800 employees who are actively working in sales, marketing, technical, seed supply, logistics, human resources, and communications. Here, our portfolio is formed by: corn and oil seed rape seeds, veggies and herbicides. Less then 1% of our selling is represented by GM corn (MON810), mainly planted in Spain, Portugal. Other countries which are sowing this kind of corn are Czech, Slovakia and Romania. Knowing this, it is easy for understand that our main activity is focused on producing, processing and selling conventional crops. There are more than 35 different conventional corn hybrids, each adapted to soil conditions, weather, etc of respective country. When is about canola, we have about 11-12 different hybrids on the market.
Here in Europe, we are selling corn seeds for organic farms as well, seeds which are untreated with fungicides or insecticides and we are happy to know that farmers get great crop yields with our seeds.
In Romania, Monsanto has one of the most innovative Corn Seed Processing Facility from Europe. Together with a few Romanian corn growers support, Monsanto produce and process in Romania corn seeds for export in 17 markets, including Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia and Serbia.
In Croatia and Serbia we are doing business starting with 2007.
In Croatia, the total corn crop is covering roughly 250.000 hectares, which decreased with more than 10% in the last 2 years. Monsanto is one of the TOP 5 companies which are selling conventional corn seeds. Our team is formed by 7 people covering sales, marketing and technical department. Dekalb seeds reach farmers’ gate with support of our distributors.
Serbia has about 800,000 hectares with corn crop, half of this surface could be found in Vojvodina region. In this country, we have12 employees, who a few of them are also responsible for other neighbor countries.
I’m proud of mention one of our important Serbia community support. It happened during last year, when Serbia was under water. We happily supported hit farmers with free conventional corn seeds and vegetables.