EU ruling allows its members to decide on GM crops

The European government voted yesterday to allow individual member states to decide whether they grow or ban the use of GM crops in their own nation.

The ruling, which has rumbled on for many years and caused intense controversy, maintains the need for stringent safety assessment by member states but provides for those states that want a more sustainable agricultural system. Currently, there is just one crop, an insect-resistant maize by Monsanto, that is approved for use in the EU, and five member states, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia successfully grow it on home soil. There are seven further GM crops approved for use but not currently cultivated.

The new ruling gives member states the authority to grow these, as well as others, not yet approved, as early as 2016.

As well as protection from insects, GM crops can increase the nutritional value of foodstuffs (nutritional enhancement), help them to withstand extremes in weather, provide drought and salt tolerant crops, increase shelf life of foods, adopt medicinal benefits and protect against disease.

Opposition to GM crops and the decision to allow countries to decide for themselves has been rife. Friends of the Earth is calling member states to immediately use their powers to ban all forms of GM crop cultivation. Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, says: “This is another nail in the coffin of genetically modified crops. While not perfect, this new law allows governments to shut the door on biotech crops in Europe and shift farming in a more sustainable direction. The public has continually rejected GM foods and increasingly supports greener farming and local food. We call on national governments to use this new power to keep GM crops out of their countries.”

The cultivation of GM crops in the European Union has been controversial for more than 15 years. Currently, nine EU countries have completely banned the cultivation of the MON810 maize – the only GM food crop authorised in Europe. These bans have been challenged by the European Commission, as well as the biotech industry, resulting in many national environment ministers supporting proposals to strengthen their legal rights to ban GM crops. The EU has not approved a new GM crop for cultivation since 1998 and it is this that led world leader in plant seeds and agricultural solutions for farmers (GM crops) Monsanto to effectively pull out of Europe in 2013.

The company withdrew all its applications for EU approval of biotech products apparently due to delays in administration and instead said that it would invest in the import of GM products, rather than growth. This latest move could encourage Monsanto back on to the European market.

Those who support the cultivation of GM crops see it as a way forward for GM foods. The UK’s Institute of Food Research sees genetic modification as one way that inexpensive, safe and nutritious foods can feed the world’s population. In a statement, it said: “The new legislation maintains the need for a stringent safety assessment from EFSA, but provides additional flexibility for individual nations to decide for themselves whether to grow GM crops commercially. It is now up to individual governments to use that choice, but we hope that decisions will be informed by the excellent, independent scientific advice available to them, to use the full range of options, including GM, to provide a more sustainable agricultural system in future.”

In October 2014, 21 of the 30 most eminent plant scientists in Europe implored the EU in an open letter to allow the safe cultivation of GM crops in EU member states, in order to ensure the efficient research into plants that may secure food security in Europe and beyond.

They said: “Serious challenges are not adequately addressed, such as developing plants resilient to climate change, preventing loss of crop biodiversity, and creating an agriculture that avoids unsustainable demands for water, energy, fertilizers and pesticides. If plant scientists cannot apply their knowledge for the benefit of society, Europe will be unable to lead in global efforts to build a sustainable agricultural system and plant-based bio-economy. The most pressing global problems – how do deal with environmental change and secure food supply for all – arguably will only be solved with a massively increased worldwide investment in plant research.”

EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was present during the debate ahead of the vote, welcomed the agreement, adding it allows freedom of choice. “The agreement states that it will give member states the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory without affecting the EU risk assessment,” he said.

The text agreed is in line with President Juncker’s commitment, as reflected in his Political Guidelines, to give democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment….. Read the full article