The majority of EU member states (two-thirds) have decided to “opt-out” of genetically modified (GM) food cultivation after new legislation brought into force this Spring gives individual member state the power to restrict GM cultivation in their own territories.
Following the deadline of the 3 October 2015, European Commission spokesperson Enrico Brivio confirmed that 19 of the 28 members that belong to the EU block have requested ‘opt-outs’: Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region (constituting over half of Belgium’s territory), Britain (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. Germany has a partial opt-out that will still allow research into GM crops without commercial cultivation. Altogether these nations represent ~70 % of the EU population and over two-thirds of its arable land.
Serbia and Russia, not members of the EU, have also made a point of rejecting the technology, with Serbia now marketing itself as an exclusively non-GM soy producer. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, has a moratorium against GM crops already in place.
Similar opt-out proposals are under consideration for imports of GM food and animal feed but are yet to be finalised.
Concerns over safety, conflict of interest, corrupt regulation, and lack of demand
Scotland was the first to announce its opt-out, with environment secretary Richard Lochhead saying they intend to uphold the precautionary principle – which states that when there is reasonable suspicion of harm, lack of scientific certainty or consensus must not be used to postpone preventative action, adding: “There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 bn food and drink sector. The Scottish government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.” And, “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.”
UK-based pro-GM lobbyist Sense about Science orchestrated a letter signed by a number of organisations including certain universities claiming that Scotland will be missing out on future innovations such as enriched GM fishmeal or GM potatoes, despite Scotland having some of the world’s most renowned wild salmon and fish stocks. They have completely ignored the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GM crops. The risks were summarised in ISIS’ response to Sense about Science’s letter (Open Letter in Support of Scotland’s Ban on GMOs, SiS 68), together with another open letter published in support of Scotland’s decision, signed by dozens of independent scientists, referring to the widespread conflict of interest by many who endorse GM crops, and highlighting GM crop-associated rising pesticide use, lack of increased yields, as well as safety concerns to health and environment. Regulation is permissive, to say the least; GM crops are never tested with their associated pesticides, as in the case of glyphosate-tolerant GM crops. At worst, it is corrupt, as risk assessment is essentially left to the chemical industry (see Scandal of Glyphosate Re-assessment in Europe,SiS63). Among the copious evidence of harm to health and the environment are a recent letter signed by 300 scientists published in a peer-reviewed journal (seeScientists Declare No Consensus on GMO Safety, SiS 60) and Ban GMOS Now (ISIS special report). Preventing contamination of non-GM crops is also a major issue
Germany’s concerns were stated in their application, signed by Dr Robert Kloos, the deputy food and agriculture minister: “The cultivation of genetically modified maize is incompatible with the usual agricultural land use in Germany. It would have negative effects on the cultivation of conventional and organic maize. [It] would increase the risk that domestic agricultural products including the conventional and organic maize seeds may be contaminated with genetically modified maize ingredients…This demand is also due to the necessity to maintain local biodiversity, certain types of natural and landscape features and specific ecosystem functions..”
These bans have come on the heels of the fallout from glyphosate being reclassified ‘probable human carcinogen’ by World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2015 (Fallout from WHO Classification of Glyphosate as Probable Carcinogen, SiS 67). Campaigns to ban and phase out the chemical across the world have intensified with major successes, and lawsuits are being .mounted against Monsanto for false claims of safety. This is bound to hurt sales of Monsanto’s flagship product.
Read more at Institute of Science in Society.