The safety of genetically-modified crops is backed by science

Of all the genuine food scandals and crises around the world in the past two decades not a single one was GM-related

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 12:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 1:15am

It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to call Monsanto the most hated company in the world. The US biotech company has become synonymous with genetically modified food. And that unfortunate association has given GM technologies a bad name.

Once a year, there are “Marches against Monsanto” in more than 410 cities around the world, a dubious distinction with which no other multinational can compete.Though undeserved, its terrible reputation is a major reason why Monsanto’s board and management accept a US$56 billion buyout from Germany’s Bayer. If the mega deal comes through, the name of Monsanto will likely disappear, no doubt to the relief of many industry insiders.

Bayer buying Monsanto to create global chemical and agriculture giant

Of course, other mega deals in the biotech space are in the offing. China National Chemical Corporation is offering US$44 billion to take over the Swiss Syngenta while Dow Chemical and DuPont are trying to merge. So Monsanto probably felt left out after its offer for Syngenta was rejected. All these deals, however, are going through regulatory hurdles.

But if the public hates GM crop companies, investors feel otherwise. The share prices of companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have been going up and up in the past decade, if you discount their temporary collapse after the 2008 financial crisis.

And investors are not necessarily being cynical or immoral. They are right. The science behind GM food is sound and safe. Allergies to nuts and seafood kill far more people every year.

China vows to step up GM food research, stop imports from flooding market

Given the amount of science, technology and tough regulation involved, genetic modification is at least as safe, if not safer, than conventional agriculture. Consider all the genuine food scandals and crises around the world in the past two decades – and I don’t mean false alarms raised by groups like Greenpeace – not a single one was GM-related.

Consumers in developed economies have the luxury of buying organic food. People in poor countries don’t have the same options. It’s fortunate China – and mainland Chinese generally – have no qualms going full steam ahead with biotechnology in food production. That’s one reason why ChemChina is buying Syngenta.

Sometimes authoritarianism has its enlightenment benefits.