Wednesday, November 18, 2015 by Greg White
A Monsanto research center in western France suffered significant fire damage late October, which officials believe was an arson attack on the biotech company. The attack occurred the same day food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis failed to convince the European Parliament to adopt a plan which would allow member states to ban genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
As regards the fire, Monsanto representative Jakob Witten told sources that investigators “strongly suspect it was a crime as no electrical or other sources were found.” He added that “No Monsanto sites in Europe have so far been the victim of fires of criminal origin, this is unprecedented violence.”
According to the news service, the fire was started at two different places at the facility, suggesting it was not caused by an electrical fire or other natural causes. Investigators also reported a strong stench of gasoline in different regions at the site. A spokeswoman said that no employees were working at the facility when the fire first took flame around 1 A.M. on October 28.
France has been at the heart of the GMO debate. The country announced in June that it was banning sales of Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready Herbicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) deemed that the active ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate, was probably carcinogenic.
Furthermore, many fear the herbicide is fueling the collapse of bee colonies, which are responsible for pollination and in turn, the production of plant food. As a result, the French government said in September they would use an opt-out mechanism with the European Commission to ban the cultivation of GMOs in the country.
Unfortunately, the European Parliament failed to adopt the plan, which would enable member states to ban GMOs. It required the approval from both national governments and the European Parliament prior to becoming a law.
“If we now go back to national authorisations, we would have to have border controls again. We have enough discussions about border controls”, German centre-right MEP Albert Dess, told sources.
MEPs couldn’t understand how national governments could ban GMOs, which are permitted in other EU states. Green MEP Bart Staes from Belgium said he could not see how the plan could work in practice, since the EU imports genetically modified animal food for European livestock. Consequently, anti-GMO activists decided to take measures into their own hands.
“If a boat of 50,000 tonnes of [genetically modified] soya arrives in the port of Antwerp, but France has decided to opt out, how will a truck be prevented from travelling to France?” Staes asked.
If the fire is confirmed to be arson, it’s possible the failure to ban GMOs in the country acted as a catalyst for some anti-GMO activists. Nevertheless, the recent fire is just one problem among many to plague Monsanto in France.
Monsanto has approximately nine facilities sprinkled throughout France, three of which were recently shut down because of declining profits. Monsanto research centers located in Middleton, Wisconsin, Mystic, Connecticut and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina will be closed soon because of financial cutbacks, as well.
In August, Monsanto announced that it would cut 2,600 jobs, or 12 percent of its workforce, in order to lower costs. The company stated it lost 19 cents per share in the most recent quarter. Profits are expected to stay low for the remainder of the year.
According to the Associated Press, Monsanto lost a whopping $156 million in the last quarter of last year. The last quarter of this year is expected to be worse than the last quarter in 2014. The recent fire serves as a reminder for how heated the GMO debate really is in France.