The battle to bring GM food to Europe has been fiercely fought for years.  Most assumed it would be continue to rage for many more. Which makes this recent announcement extremely surprising:


The world’s largest producer of seeds, Monsanto, has apparently given up
on attempts to spread its genetically modified plant varieties in
Europe. A German media report said the firm would end all lobbying for
approval.


The German newspaper “taz” reported Friday that US agriculture behemoth
Monsanto had dropped any plans to have farmers grow its genetically
modified (GM) plant varieties in Europe.


Monsanto Europe spokesman Brandon Mitchener was quoted as saying the
company would no longer engage in any lobbying fur such plants on the
continent, adding that at the moment the firm was unwilling to apply for
approval of any GM plants.

This is very curious.  Monsanto may be many things, but it is not a company that  gives up.  However, there is a clue in the last sentence of the above quotation: “at the moment the firm was unwilling to apply for
approval of any GM plants”. That suggests this is only a temporary halt, and that it will be back.

So why might it do that? Is there anything happening that might have triggered this move?

Why, yes: TAFTA/TTIP.  In fact, the issue of GM crops is likely to be one of the biggest sticking points.  The US side is insisting that “Sanitary and Phytosanitary” (SPS) measures must address GM foodstuffs, with the European side adamant that it won’t drop its precautionary principle.

So how might that apparent contradiction be resolved?  A recent meeting on SPS gives a clue:

WTO members celebrated the 50th anniversary of
186-member Codex Alimentarius, which sets international standards for
food safety, by calling, on 27–28 June 2013, for continued support for
the body, and for trade measures to be based on science.
The calls came in a two-day meeting of the
WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, which
consists of all 159 WTO members and deals with food safety and animal
and plant health — measures having an increasing impact on trade. 
 Specifically:
“The increase in the number of SPS measures
that are not based on international standards, guidelines and
recommendations, or that lack scientific justification, is a point of
concern that has often been raised by many members in the SPS Committee
and other contexts,” Brazil observed.
The discussion of the six new
specific trade concerns and the 10 previously raised and discussed in
this meeting reflected that theme.


They covered; processed meat,
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), restrictions related to the
Japanese nuclear plant accident, orchid tissue culture plantlets in
flasks, citrus fruits (a complaint by South Africa against the EU about
black spot, which is the first dispute settlement case in the
International Plant Protection Convention), offal, salmon, pesticide
residues, sheepmeat, phthalates (materials added to plastics in food
and drink containers) in wines and spirits, shrimp, mad cow disease
(BSE), GMO pollen in honey, Indonesia’s port closures, and pine trees
and other products.

As can be seen there, GMOs are mentioned twice.
Well, “trade measures to be based on science” sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?  Except, as I’ve discussed at some length recently, the “science” actually means “scientists employed by companies”; that is, it is far from being independent or disinterested.  By redefining such company testing as “scientific”, it can then be used to push through products that have never been tested by national food safety bodies.
This approach seems certain to crop up during the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, and would offer Monsanto a fresh opportunity to push its GM products in the EU.  What it will be aiming for is that US “testing” must be accepted in the EU too – that’s precisely what TAFTA/TTIP is all about – which would mean automatic approval for its products there.  Hence the recent pull-out – it won’t even need to make applications in the future.
But it gets even better for Monsanto.  Another key area for TAFTA/TTIP is investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).  Again, I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere. Here I just want to explore how Monsanto might use it to blackmail European governments into accepting GM crops.
Essentially, ISDS allows companies to sue entire countries or even regions like the EU for alleged loss of future profits (see this terrifying example from Canada.)  So once TAFTA/TTIP is signed with ISDS provisions, Monsanto will be able to threaten to sue the EU and its member states if they don’t allow its GM products to be sold there.  
The logic would be that it invested money in Europe in the “reasonable” expectation – based on “science”, of course – that it could sell its products as a result.  Since the EU authorities and national governments have proved so hostile to GM, it was unable to do that.  It would therefore claim that it could sue the EU for hundreds of millions – possibly billions – of  Euros for its “lost” profits.
This is not some mad fantasy: it is already playing out around the world, as governments find that they cannot apply laws designed to protect public health and safety, since they would have the knock-on effect of reducing some multinational’s profits, and therefore makes them subject to ISDS claims.
I believe this is the main reason for Monsanto’s temporary pull-out from the European approvals process: it feels confident that ISDS provisions will be included in TAFTA/TTIP – indeed, both the EU and US sides have said they want them – and equally confident that it will be able to sue the socks off the EU and national states if they don’t simply wave through GM products in their markets, no further approval required….