GM in the EU

Anthony McGarry investigates the wider implications on food security and other industries

19th October 2015

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A startling backlash to the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and biotechnology industry is gaining momentum across Europe.

On the 3rd of October, nineteen European Union (EU) member states applied to keep genetically modified crops either partially or totally out of their regions, with Luxemburg, Denmark, Slovenia and Malta making last minute applications to opt out from the use of genetically modified crops all together.

As a result of this legislation, EU member countries will have the right to ban development of any GMO they choose, independent to whether the product has been declared as safe by European health commissions.

However, this opt out only restricts growing GMOs in those European countries; the importing of 58 specific GM crops will still be allowed to continue, as they are still widely used for food and feedstock purposes.

But what about the UK? If the UK wanted to grow GM crops, their approval must first go through the European food safety authority (EFSA), in which a GMO panel assesses the risk of the product and its development to the environment as well as human/animal wellbeing. However, that does not mean it would be used throughout the whole UK. The crop would then have the opportunity to be prohibited by the UK’s member states, so Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would have their own say on whether it could be grown on their land. This second layer of confirmation is to take into account the socio-economic impact of developing a crop in different areas.

As a result, the UK is seeking a ban on growth in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leaving England the sole UK state to allow GM crop cultivation.

The decision by these nineteen European nations to opt-out of the production of GMOs has the potential to further hit the biotechnology industry, especially after Monsanto – a world leading manufacturer of GM crops and herbicides – announced it would be slashing 2600 jobs worldwide in order to keep the company afloat, needing to reduce spending by an extra $100 million. Not only that, but the so-called European ‘Green Wave’ is expected to affect proposed plans to lift bans on GMO use by governments in many African and Asian countries, which would dramatically slow down the development of the biotechnology industry in many non-EU countries.

In regards to the use of Biotechnology in Europe, DEFRA (the department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has previously stated that “GM technology could deliver benefits providing it is used safely and responsibly”; indicating that the mood in Europe towards GM crops is not completely against their development. They also commented that they “support farmers having access to developments in new technology and being able to choose whether or not to adopt them”.

The world population is expanding exponentially  and every mouth will need feeding, so the question remains: is GM the way forward?

Anthony McGarry.

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