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PolitiCheck: It is not true that GMO is legally grown in Ukraine or that the land is owned by American companies

  • It is not true that GMO crops are being grown legally in Ukraine;

  • Ukraine’s parliament has never allowed foreigners to buy agricultural land. That right is reserved solely for Ukrainian citizens and companies owned fully by Ukranians;

  • The investment company BlackRock was invited by the Ukrainian government to participate in the creation of a fund for the future rebuilding of the country after the war. The company has no right to purchase agricultural land in Ukraine;

  • The transport subsidy of 30 euro per tonne of exported grain was requested by Ukraine but the EU has not made a decision to grant it.

Claims:

Tsoncho Ganev, 14 September 2023 in Parliament:

„About 10 years ago a law was voted in the Ukrainian Rada allowing the use of GMO crops in Ukraine. As a result, the largest GMO producer, Monsanto, entered the country and became firmly established there.”

„A little later the Rada also voted to allow and approve the right of foreigners and international corporations to become owners of some of the most fertile land in the world – the land of Ukraine. As a result of that, one of the biggest multinational corporations, perhaps the biggest one – BlackRock – bought up a major part […] of the agricultural land in Ukraine.”

„As we heard in parliament today, there will be not just duty-free imports, there will also be a subsidy of 30 euro or 60 levs per tonne of grain grown by Ukrainian farmers.“

Fact check:

The current Ukrainian law on genetically modified organisms (GMO), in force since 2007, does not ban the production of such crops in principle. However, it does not allow farmers to grow them without registration. According to the law, they must be entered into a special government register allowing them to be traced and transparently reported if used in foods or animal feed. Up until the present moment there isn’t a single GMO variety registered for production in Ukraine. That means that GMO plants can not be legally grown in the country.

This was confirmed for Factcheck.bg by Ukraine’s first deputy minister of agriculture Taras Vysotskyi in a telephone interview. He explained that grain shipments for export are routinely tested to make sure they do not contain GMO. Vysotskyi pointed out that Ukraine wants to join the European Union and is therefore doing its best to adhere strictly to EU requirements in its exports. He admitted that testing sometimes comes accross illegally grown GMO produce, mostly corn, of which 2-3% of the shipments do contain GMO varieties. In those cases a penalty is imposed on the farmers and export of the produce is not allowed, Taras Vysotskyi said.

Foreign citizens and companies can not own agricultural land

Ukraine’s Land Act states in its article 1 that „land is the prime national asset and is under the special protection of the state.” According to the law agricultural land in the country can be owned only by Ukrainian citizens, companies whose ownership is wholly in the hands of Ukrainian citizens, as well as by local councils and the state. Article 130 prohibits foreign citizens, stateless persons or legal entities from acquiring shares in companies or being members on organisations that own agricultural land. The law says also that those restrictions on land ownership can only be removed through a referendum.

Between 1992 and 2021 a moratorium on the trade in agricultural land was in place in Ukraine. It did not allow any land sales, even between Ukrainian citizens.

Tsoncho Ganev’s words echo many similar claims made by pro-Kremlin analysts and politicians. In early September the same argument was used by Hungary’s president Viktor Orban speaking against the export of Ukrainian grain to the EU. He called it “a commercial product originating from territories that have probably been in the hands of the United States for a long time.” The quote from his interview for Hungary’s public radio was widely circulated on Russian media.

Claims of this kind are not new. They can be found in articles on Russian media from as early as 2014. A piece by RIA Novosti from back then, under the title “The colonisation of Ukraine by American agriculture cartels is gaining momentum” features the same accusations against Ukraine and the United States and mentions the same companies we are seeing today. 

When Russia began sabotaging the export of Ukrainian grain last year, the claims that this was a question of the West’s commercial interests were reactivated. In May a statement to that effect was made by Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzya. He said that food exported from Ukraine was being sold by American companies motivated by their own desire for profit rather than by the needs of starving people around the world. Those claims were actively used in attempts to discredit the Black Sea Grain Initiative for the export of Ukrainian grain, which Russia put an end to in July.

BlackRock, the company that ‘owns the world’

BlackRock is the biggest asset management company in the world. It controls investments worth over 9 trillion US dollars. The company is multinational and has its headquarters in New York. As a foreign investor, it is not allowed by Ukrainian law to own agricultural land in the country.

In May Ukraine’s president had a meeting with BlackRock’s leadership. The Ukrainian government invited the company to take part in establishing an investment fund for the future reconstruction of Ukraine after the war. Other asset management and consultant companies such as JP Morgan и McKinsey are also participating in the project. The fund is expected to attract billions of dollars of investments, which will be needed for rebuilding the country.

The large amount of assets controlled by BlackRock makes it the main investor in many of the most profitable global businesses. It also makes it a target of a number of conspiracy theories, in which it is cast in the villain’s role. „Why are all the biggest companies in the world owned by the same people?“, asks a conspiracy theory video on Instagram from March 2022, which was liked over 17,000 times before being taken down as a result of a Reuters fact check.

In reality the shares managed by BlackRock in various businesses are owned by the company’s clients. BlackRock chooses where to invest and votes on behalf of its clients in the businesses’ decision-making bodies. That makes it hugely influential as a big investor but it does not own the assets that are being ascribed to it.

Like other large asset management companies, BlackRock has a policy to invest in sustainable, socially responsible and ethical businesses. That has made it the subject of hostility on behalf of certain conservative circles in the United States, who accuse it of using its influence to promote a liberal agenda. 

Is Ukrainian grain going to be subsidised

The idea of supporting the transport costs of Ukraine’s grain exports comes from Ukraine itself and has not been approved by EU authorities so far. It was publicly proposed for the first time in August, backed up by the argument that Ukraine’s exports were disrupted by the war and the country was forced to use much longer routes and more complex logistics. The issue was brought up by EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski during a debate in the EU Parliament on 12 September. He said he would make a proposal to support the transport of grain exported from Ukraine with 20 to 40 euro per tonne in compensation for the higher costs. His idea was met with disapproval by other participants in the debate. The proposal mentioned by Wojciechowski has not been considered so far and the money for the trasport of Ukrainian grain has not been granted. 

Fact-checked:

There are no GMO crops grown legally in Ukraine. The Rada has never allowed the sale of agricultural land to foreigners. Only Ukrainian citizens and companies owned entirely by Ukrainian citizens have the right to own agricultural land in the country. Land can also be owned by the state and local councils. The asset management company BlackRock will participate in the creation of an investment fund for the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine but is not entitled to buy agricultural land in the country. The amount of 30 euro per tonne for the transportation of Ukrainian grain has been requested by Ukraine but the EU has so far not made a decision to grant it.

Slavyana Sechkova also contributed to work on this article.

Sources

Law of Ukraine: On the State System of Biosafety in Creating, Testing, Transporting and Using Genetically-Modified Organisms: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/acc_e/ukr_e/wtaccukr150_leg_2.pdf

Верховна Рада ухвалила закон про державне реголювання i контроль за обiгом ГМО: https://forbes.ua/news/verkhovna-rada-ukhvalila-zakonoproekt-pro-derzhavne-regulyuvannya-gmo-23082023-15592

Поземлен кодекс на Украйна: https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2768-14#Text

Износът на украинско зърно в подробности: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/bg/infographics/ukrainian-grain-exports-explained/

Финансови показатели отчетени от BlackRock за първата половина на 2023 г.: https://s24.q4cdn.com/856567660/files/doc_financials/2023/Q2/BLK-2Q23-Earnings-Release.pdf

President holds meeting with world’s largest investment company on creation of fund for rebuilding Ukraine: https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-proviv-zustrich-iz-kerivnictvom-najbilshoyi-u-svit-82725

Fact check – Video claiming BlackRock and Vanguard ‘own all the biggest corporations in the world’ is missing context: https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-business-investment-idUSL2N2WI1K4

GOP vs. ESG: Why Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republicans are fighting ‘woke’ ESG investing: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2022/12/19/what-are-esg-investments-businesses/10898841002/

Kyiv says EU transport subsidies to help Ukrainian grain transport: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kyiv-says-eu-transport-subsidies-help-ukrainian-grain-export-2023-08-22/

Verbatim report of proceedings, Tuesday, 12 September 2023 – Strasbourg: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/CRE-9-2023-09-12-ITM-018_EN.html

This publication was created with the financial support of the European Media and Information Fund, managed by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The sole responsibility for the content lies entirely with Factcheck.bg and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of EMIF and the Fund Partners, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

Vassilena Dotkova
Vassilena Dotkova
Vassilena Dotkova is a graduate of Sofia University with a degree in English. She has worked in print and online media. As editor at the printed daily Dnevnik and the news website dnevnik.bg she was part of a team covering environmental issues and the green transition. Her other interests include diverse areas such as literature, sociolinguistics, social sciences and international relations. She has translated fiction and philosophical works from English into Bulgarian. She spent years of her life in the UK and Scandinavia and also has a working knowledge of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish.

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