Fear of Famine Drives EU Support of Genetically Modified Crops

Anti-GMO Protesters The European Union has traditionally been more cautious of genetically-modified (GM) foods than the rest of us. They require more scientific study than other food safety organizations before approving individual seeds and ban a significant number of GM seeds as well. This stands in stark contrast to U.S. policies that encourage GM crop growing through subsidies. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, 92% of Minnesota’s 2007 soybean crop and 86% of its corn crop came from GM seeds.

Now, mounting pressure from both Europe’s farmers and global food aid organizations have caused the high courts of various EU countries to reconsider.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) wants to collect upwards of $20 billion from member nations to help the world’s famine victims, particularly those in Africa. Many food aid workers believe that restricting GM seed use is harmful to relieving the hungry and see seed integrity as secondary to their cause of hunger relief.

On the other end of the spectrum, the farmers of Europe are watching their North American, South American and Asian counterparts clean up in the booming grain market, using the highly prodigious GM seeds. Nowhere has the struggle between profit-minded farmers and opponents of GM foods been more visible than in the high courts of France, where farmers sued to use a banned Monsanto-created corn seed in March. When the courts upheld the ban, proponents of biotechnological intervention warned that such legislation could exacerbate rising food prices and economic difficulties for small-scale farmers.

France is Europe’s largest agricultural economy and has maintained one of the stricter oppositions to GM seeds and the biotechnology companies like Monsanto that bring the seeds to market. But recently, France’s National Assembly passed a hotly-contested bill by a single vote that will allow genetically-modified seeds that have been previously approved by the E.U. health commission to be grown in France. The E.U. – while restrictive by global standards – still approves more GM seeds than many of its member nations.

But what’s so bad about a seed that resists pests and draught through genetic modification, thereby reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides? GM seeds can cause a whole host of problems, but little research is conducted to ensure their safety before they are brought to market. In many instances, undertested GM seeds have wreaked havoc on the indigenous landscapes, animals and people that came into contact with it. In one example in 2005, Monsanto’s BT Cotton was banned in India after it killed livestock and contaminated indigenous plants. The cotton had been injected with some material from bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that kills boll worms – a cotton parasite.

But more than quarrels over particular seeds, opponents of GM crops articulate their discomfort with the commodification of food staples that allows a few multinational conglomerates to have control over all of the basic crops that feed humans. In other words, a GM corn seed is not nearly as dangerous as the patent that allows Monsanto to control who grows it and for what purpose.

In the heated debates across Europe, this issue seems to have gotten lost amid the discussions of farmer rights, humanitarian aid and the doomsday predictions of economic and crop failure.

Image Credit: Charles Platiau for Reuters

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About the Author

I am a big fan of food. I am not a big fan of endocrine disrupting or carcinogenic compounds in my food. I will probably write a lot about that here.
  • Egads. seems like if they were really afraid of famine they would reconsider supporting GM foods, as many come from terminator seeds.

  • James

    This is a well-written article. There is every reason for people to be pessimistic about genetically modified foods. They are a new phenomenon and people are bound to fear anything new. There are a lot of misconceptions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For instance, some people argue that they are a threat to the environment and the health of human beings. These fears, however, have never been substantiated. Scientists have never published a study affirming these suspicions.

    The issue of “commoditizing” staple seeds by a few biotech companies is debatable. If I know that when I plant biotech seeds, gains will be more than when I use conventional varieties, I will go for the former. I won’t care which company makes them.

    And we all need to know that biotech companies are in the business of making money. They’re not philanthropic entities. People who have invested in them want to see returns for their investments.

    To mitigate these fears, we should be encouraging home-made crop genetic engineering, where scientists research on crops that can be beneficial to their local communities.

    I’ve always argued that the best way to approach the biotech debate is to let science to be the foundation of the positions we tale about this issue. I know how invoking Syngenta, Monsanto, DuPont or Bayer arouses strong emotions to the extent that reason is ignored.

    So, let’s engage in a constructive debate about crop genetic engineering.

  • robin

    eu wants countries to be dependent on bayer corporation of Germany,usa wants farmers,populace to be dependent on monsanto corporation.

    the UK should not be dependent on either eu or usa for food,already we are dangerously dependent on 60% food imports,40 years ago we imported exotic fruit only plus spices from india,caribbean.

    the green party and ukip are agreed on something do not release gm food crops on the public with all pros and cons of ‘terminator seeds’ prospect of gm crops spreading superweeds could destroy other crops.

    uk is the most densely populated island now,ahead of holland and indonesia with population set to soar past 67million in next 5 years.unsustainable

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