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Legal ban of GM crops – discussion

Date: 22.6.2010 

The European Commission has proposed the adoption of new rules that would make it possible for Member States to ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory. The process foresees two steps: first the adjustment of co-existence rules in a way that in fact prevent farmers growing GM crops; and second allowing legal bans. These new rules should accelerate the GM authorisation process.

PotatoesThe proposal is being discussed in the Czech Republic with several people noting the idea of legal freedom to plant GM crops on the territory of a Member State that finds such a crop safe even if it has not been approved for the EU as a whole. Based on their positive experience with Bt maize and ready acceptance of the Amflora potato, the Czech Republic might use such an opportunity.

The concept is supported by following arguments:

1) In a democratic society that respects the free market, a farmer should be free to grow a Corncrop that is profitable except for clearly dangerous cases (e.g. poppies for making heroin) or crops proven by solid scientific reasons to be dangerous to the local environment.

Consumers do not buy products from crops they do not like or do not consider as safe. Farmers cannot sell such crops and consequently will not grow them. There is no need for bureaucrats and politicians to become involved. Nor is there any need for society at large to waste money for a huge bureaucratic control and traceability system.

2) The present EU arrangements for approving the planting of GM crops and the sale of their products are clearly a political game with adverse impact on farmers, consumers and, indeed, on nature. Soy beans tolerant to glyphosate are a classical example. They are approved for food and feed in the EU, with millions of tons imported annually.

 cropsDuring the past 15 years, perhaps a billion tons in total have been consumed globally; no adverse affects due to transgenesis have been reliably documented. Nevertheless, politicians in Brussels do not allow European farmers to grow them. It is known that the benefits of the present generation of GM crops arise primarily from their cultivation, not from their use.

Politicians keep repeating in their documents "...in order to provide a high level protection of human and animal health and environment..." or "The protection of human health and the environment requires that due attention be given to controlling risks from the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)".

SoyaThese are simply populist phrases as soya beans do not cross with wild plants in Europe and hence have no potential for becoming weeds. Two or three herbicides have to be used for the standard variety, with glyphosate usage in the Czech Republic running to about a thousand tones a year. If all the soy beans were glyphosate-tolerant, this amount would increase by 2% and other herbicides would be omitted. Where is the risk the politicians are talking about?

3) The so called co-existence system is a form of punishment of those who choose to grow GM crops. Consider the comparison: a Jewish butcher sells kosher products for a higher price; it is his duty to undertake and pay for the precautions and procedures needed to keep the items kosher.Money

Pig breeders cannot be held responsible and required to pay. Similarly, organic farmers declare their products "GMO-free" and get higher prices. However, in that case, the precautions needed to keep his products GMO-free (for no good reason, one might add) are to be the responsibility of GM crop growers who are expected to bear the financial burden.

All these arguments are quite logical and supported by facts. However they do not consider the public atmosphere. For almost 20 years, certain global associations have been mounting expensively-funded professional propaganda campaigns against transgenic crops. They use lies and half-truths to generate fear of GMOs among the public.

EUEurobarometer 2006 findings showed just how successful that campaign is: almost one third of Europeans believe that standard tomatoes have no genes, that only the "modified" ones have them. A large proportion of the population seem convinced that eating modified fruit might alter their heredity. Million of Europeans signed up during an internet campaign requesting the labelling products from animals fed GM fodder.

In such an environment, a Member State whose farmers planted GM crop not approved in the whole of the EU would lose access to the wider European market. Those organisations mentioned above would trigger a campaign for banning food products from the offending country. Competitors will be happy to push such products out of the market using the well-known Frankenstein label to damn them in the public's perception.

This argument demonstrates that the situation in Europe may reach the democratic character referred to in paragraph 1 above only if and when citizens are properly supplied with factual information which informs them at a level they can appreciate, so becoming immunized against false propaganda. Unfortunately, scrutiny of EU programmes such as those of FP7 fails to detect any political support for factual public information in the field of transgenesis.

Author: Jaroslav Drobník


 

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