MOSCOW — Ukraine has long tried to sell itself to Europe as the once-and-future breadbasket of the continent, promising that Western investment is the key to making its under-exploited black earth bloom.
But official Russia would like you to know that all this agricultural development talk is really just a secret plot to help companies like Monsanto take over the world.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told a meeting of his counterparts in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Tuesday that the West plans to grown “genetically modified crops” in Ukraine. And it’s a fool’s errand too, he suggested, because, “to put it mildly, Europe will not approve of such products.”
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that Western countries are not planning to restore the Ukrainian economy. Rather, they are going to turn Ukraine into an agrarian country,” Patrushev said, in comments carried by Russian news service Interfax.
Agriculture is a critical part of Ukraine’s plans to revitalize its economy – and a culprit in the country’s recent economic decline. Once 20 percent of Ukraine’s economy, agriculture now comprises only about half that – despite more than half of the country being arable land. Nonetheless, Ukraine is still a major producer of wheat, barley, corn, sunflower and sugar beets.
Development of Ukraine’s agricultural sector is also a significant area of focus in discussions with Europe about finalizing an association agreement between the former Soviet republic and the European Union.
Genetically-modified cultivation was long banned in Ukraine – as was the sale of farmland. Foreign agricultural companies operating in Ukraine oftentimes rent land, and under the terms of a moratorium extended before protesters ever took to the Independence Square to oust former president Viktor Yanukovych, will have to keep doing so until the beginning of 2016.
But the association agreement signed between the European Union and Ukraine last year may have created new space for the potential introduction of genetically-modified crops in Ukraine.
Under the terms of the association agreement – the relevant parts of which took effect last year – Ukraine agreed to agricultural cooperation that would include “promoting modern and sustainable agricultural production … including extension of the use of organic production methods and the use of biotechnologies.”
Monsanto – perhaps the most recognizable corporate name in genetically modified products – did express interest in investing in Ukraine last year. (It’s worth noting that the company operates in Russia as well, though not with GMOs, just as it has operated in Ukraine.)
To what extent that means that Ukraine has opened itself up to a GMO feeding frenzy, though, is not entirely clear. The E.U. did just change their laws on GMO cultivation a few months ago, adopting an agreement that would let GMOs not previously approved into the European Union market.
But the new rules also give individual states opt-out rights, if they want to stay GMO-free.
Currently there are six E.U. member states that have invoked the body’s “safeguard clause” against GMOs – Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.