Originally published: Science Magazine
Earlier this week, in the middle of Easter night in Olmeneta, Italy, an unknown person attacked the Monsanto Research Center with several “bottle bombs” or Molotov cocktails, small improvised explosive devices. The 16 April assault, apparently a protest against research on genetically modified organisms (GMO), did not injure anyone but firemen worked for hours to stop a blaze set off by one bomb that devastated the cold room where most of the small facility’s experimental seeds are usually stored.
The attacker launched four incendiary devices in total—two did not explode—and fled after spray painting a wall with “Bayer criminal marriage. No GMO.” Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant, merged with Monsanto, an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology multinational company based in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2016.
No one has claimed responsibility for the action yet. Investigators are screenings video recorded at the entrances of the town that nigh and the previous days.
The Monsanto Research Center has a fulltime staff of about a dozen, but officials there stress that they do not work with GMOs. Jean-Luc Pellet, the scientific manager responsible for the center, says the staff focuses on agricultural research and the improvement of traditional corn varieties.
Though still shocked by the attack, Pellet notes one piece of good fortune: Many of the seeds were already planted in fields and some recently arrived from South America were still stored elsewhere, in a fire-safe room. “Still, the loss has been huge, close to hundreds of thousands of Euros. This rural area is very peaceful and we do not handle even a single GM grain,” Pellet says. “Monsanto is always very careful to follow the legislation of the host country.”
Last year Italy took advantage of a recently passed European Union directive that allows EU Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory. A total of 19 EU members out of 28 countries, including Italy, have since opted out of growing GMO crops within all or part of their territories. Therefore, Italy does not allow commercial cultivation of any GMOs, nor field trials of any modified plants tested in the country’s academic labs or research centers. “At the same time, Italy uses some 10 thousand tons of GM soybean every single day, 365 days a year,” notes Roberto Defez of the National Research Council in Naples, Italy, who has been active in promoting GM’s research and safety in the country.