November 13th, 2014 Environmental Impacts

EU to allow national bans on GMOs

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On Tuesday, MEPs voted to allow national bans on Genetically Modified (GM) food crops for environmental and health reasons, even if the European Commission and the European Food and Safety Authority has approved them for cultivation.

Without this amendment, member states would only have been granted a limited right to opt out of the two year moratorium on growing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Any country choosing to opt out would have faced pressure from the GM lobby and the EU’s ‘single market’ guidelines, making an ‘opt out’ almost impossible. This would be despite findings from a number of surveys[1] that show a majority of the British public do not want GM foods in any part of the food chain, as reported by GM Freeze.

The impacts of GMOs are still unknown. Despite its approval by the EU[2], The Guardian recently cited a new report on a GM maize strain grown in Europe that has negative health impacts in rats. The long term impacts of herbicides and pesticides associated with GMOs (like Monsanto’s Roundup) are also unknown.

Perhaps the greatest threat from GMOs is the industry’s stranglehold on seeds and consequently, the farmers who sow them. Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical company with a monopoly over the GM industry, threatens to sue farmers whose crops have been contaminated by GM varieties.

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for South East England who voted in favour of national bans, says, “If we are going to provide food for the Earth’s growing population in a time of climate chaos, then small-scale and ideally organic farming is the answer – not Monsanto-dominated unsafe GMO agriculture.”[3]

Thanks to Tuesday’s vote, countries can now introduce national bans on GMOs without the threat of legal action from the GM industry or the EU. National bans will also mean fewer GM food crops and, as a result, reduced risk of crop contamination.

Despite this opt out on growing GM crops, in 2013 British supermarkets reneged on a long standing agreement not to use GM in animal feed. So we will still be eating GM via our meat.

National bans on growing GM food crops are a good start. But in an EU those countries that have banned GMOs may find themselves pushed out of the market by cheaper crops, imported from countries that haven’t banned them. This would lead to a similar story to that of the meat industry, where countries with lower standards are undermining those with higher standards through imports. We would like to see a ban on the growing and importation of all GM crops, and meat fed on GM crops.

[1] www.gmfreeze.org/why-freeze/unwanted/

[2] www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/11/meps-likely-to-allow-national-bans-on-gm-crops-in-europe

[3] www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2630970/euro_parliament_strengthens_national_gmo_optouts.html

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