By: Jan Schwalbe and Catherine Bosley

Swiss environmental activists plan to demonstrate against Monsanto Co.’s bid for Syngenta AG this Saturday, highlighting how resistance from non-governmental groups could create political obstacles to a combination of the seeds and pesticides makers.

About 30 groups opposed to genetically-modified organisms, including Greenpeace, will assemble at 2 p.m. at the central Barfuesserplatz square in Basel, the Swiss city where Syngenta is based. The organizers expect about 400 demonstrators, Hans Schaeppi from the MultiWatch group said in an interview.

The protest is part of the worldwide “March against Monsanto” campaign with planned protests in 38 countries, as activists this year will also take a stance against the company’s $45 billion takeover offer for its Swiss rival. The deal would strengthen Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of GMOs, in Europe and cement its dominance in the U.S. Critics argue a bigger Monsanto could squeeze farmers on pricing, reduce genetic diversity in agriculture, and make it harder for governments to control genetically-modified organisms.

“There are more and more scientific indications that the products of these companies are not only harming the environment but also animals and humans,” said Yves Zenger, a spokesman for Greenpeace in Switzerland. “This merger would increase the monopoly of power of these companies.”

Public Scrutiny

This is the first time the annual “March against Monsanto,” which was staged for the first time in 2013, will take place in Basel. The city is home to a host of pharmaceutical companies including Roche Holding AG and Novartis AG, and Syngenta, the world’s largest producer of crop chemicals. Swiss activists will also hold protests in Bern and Morges, MultiWatch said.

The board of Syngenta earlier this month rejected Monsanto’s takeover bid and the Swiss company has subtly highlighted the reputational issues of its U.S. rival. Monsanto’s proposal would face “significant execution risks, including regulatory and public scrutiny at multiple levels in many countries,” the Swiss rival said at the time.

A Syngenta spokesman today declined to comment on the planned protests in Basel this weekend.

Monsanto on May 20 said it’s still interested in buying Syngenta and it would be willing to sell all of the Swiss company’s assets for conventional and genetically modified seeds in an effort to overcome regulatory concerns.

A deal, which would also likely face an antitrust review, may unite food-conscious consumers — people who buy organic produce and shun what they perceive as inferior conventional food — with some farmers concerned about giving too much power to a single corporation.

Lobby Efforts

Monsanto’s scientists were among the pioneers of genetic modification of plant cells in the early 1990s, and it has lobbied vigorously for their use. Proponents of GMOs argue they can produce greater yields and incorporate useful characteristics like resistance to insects, reducing the need for chemical pesticides, all without health risks greater than those of other breeding techniques.

Still, GMOs are largely banned in the European Union, due to what activists say are uncertain effects on health and the environment.


Originally Published: Bloomberg