Agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto, which has introduced genetically modified large-acreage crops like soybeans and cotton to the U.S. market, agreed last week to purchase Seminis, a leading fruit and vegetable seed company, for about $1 billion. The acquisition has raised eyebrows, with many parties speculating about how soon Monsanto might introduce GM fruits and vegetables. For its part, Monsanto makes vague assurances it will not do so in the near or even middle-term future.
A statement from Monsanto said, "From a technology perspective, Monsanto intends to continue on the path taken by Seminis for its business, which is to focus on developing products via advanced breeding techniques. Longer term, biotechnology applications could be an option ? "
Lori Fisher, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, said Seminis was an attractive acquisition because it was already a market leader and could contribute quickly to Monsanto's financial success. She said marketing biotech fruits and vegetables is in the company's long-term outlook, but will depend on consumer acceptance and the prevailing legislative environment, as well as the company's research and development priorities.
Anti-GMO activists suspect Monsanto will introduce GM fruits and vegetables sooner than the company lets on. From examining Monsanto's track record, Craig Winters, executive director of The Campaign, said he expects the company to try to introduce new GM crops before any sort of federal labeling regulations can be passed. The Campaign is a political advocacy group for the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
The acquisition creates a strong political and financial power favoring GMOs in the United States. "If they control that much of the food supply, they can pull a lot of strings," said Winters. But he also said it might help increase awareness about GMOs. In the same way U.S. farmers opposed Monsanto's new GM wheat in 2003, American consumers might react against the introduction of GM fruits and vegetables.
Monsanto's big step might even help the cause of The Campaign, said Winters. "It opens up opportunities for other seed companies to distinguish themselves as 'not Monsanto.'"