The move to ban genetically modified organisms in Europe is gaining ground, with more than half of European Union member nations now having adopted one, and the rest being pressured to follow suit.
As reported by The Guardian, governments in 15 of the European Union’s 28 member nations and three of its regions have decided to opt out of a new GM crop plan under new rules agreed upon in March; thus, delivering a major blow against agricultural biotechnology giants like Monsanto and Syngenta, two of the world’s biggest GM seed makers.
What’s more, applications from the governments of Greece and Latvia have also been accepted as well. If the pattern continues, fully two-thirds of Europe’s arable land and population will be GMO-free.
The successive bans in the EU have already sent industry giants panicking, as you might imagine, with some warning that the whole of the European continent could become a “graveyard” for biotech products. Environmentalists, on the other hand, have praised the opting out and hope to see more of it.
Opting out of GM crops spreading across Europe like superweeds
“A growing number of governments are rejecting the commission’s drive for GM crop approvals,” Greenpeace’s EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, told The Guardian. “They don’t trust EU safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food. The only way to restore trust in the EU system now is for the commission to hit the pause button on GM crop approvals and to urgently reform safety testing and the approval system.”
Recently, Germany became the largest of the EU member nations to opt out of GM crops after the country’s minister of agriculture, Christian Schmidt, told the EU commission in Brussels, Belgium, that the nation had no use for such crops.
“Other countries that have exercised an opt out or said they plan to include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia,” the paper reported online. “Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wallonia will also be opting out on a regional basis.”
More recently, Wales decided to opt out, which left England as the only country in the UK to permit GM crop cultivation. The final deadline for withdrawing from GM crop provisions was October 3, but some expect more EU nations to pull out afterward.
Gloom for biotechs
EU officials told the paper that agribusiness corporations are the most likely candidates to object to Europe’s widespread rejection of GM crops, especially when large nations like Germany make such decisions. Still, nations can maintain bans on grounds that such are in the public’s best interest and are therefore not related to environmental assessments by the European Food Safety Authority, the EU’s food regulator.
As more countries opt out, biotech companies are forecasting a gloomier future. The industry has complained that only about 140,000 hectares (about 346,000 acres) of European land is open to GMO cultivation, compared to about 181 million hectares (447.2 million acres) around the world.
“We deeply regret that some EU countries have decided to make use of the new licensed ban on the cultivation of safe and approved GM crops on their territory,” Beat Spath, the director of the industry group Europabio, told The Guardian. “The new EU legislation allowing these bans is a ‘stop’ sign for agricultural cultivation that sends a negative signal for all innovative industries considering investing in Europe.”
What’s more, he complained, EU commission proposals to broaden the rules to include imported biotech grains would establish an alarming precedent that is likely to “further extend the graveyard for this technology.”
Before the new rules were adopted in March, EU commissioners decided in January to try to rid the continent of genetic garbage.