GM crops falter across the EU
Public still wary of using genetically modified seeds despite their higher yields
Posted: March 9, 2011
The European Union is being criticized as yields from genetically modified (GM) crops plummet across the 27 member states and favor grows for organic crops, all at a time when the future of food and agricultural policies are more important than ever for world leaders.
In the Czech Republic, one of the top three producers of GM crops in the EU, production of Bt maize, used for animal feed, dropped 27 percent to just 4,680 hectares, while organic crop acreage increased 30 percent in 2010.
In Europe, GM crops and organic crops have drastically different yields in the first years of production. GM crops are at the top with 20 percent greater yields than standard crops. To produce the same amount of crops with organic seeds, however, requires up to three times the land.
Worldwide, GM acreage reached a record of more than 1 billion cultivated acres in 2010, up 10 percent from 2009, according to an annual report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), despite a 30 percent drop in the already negligible GM acreage in Europe. Europe's downward trend will likely continue in light of newly proposed legislation that would allow members for the first time to ban GM crops without providing any scientific evidence to justify their decision.
"We had a legal deadlock on the issue," said Frédéric Vincent, a European Commission (EC) spokesman for health and consumer policy.
Some member states have consistently violated the current legislation by banning GM crops without scientific evidence, he said, which requires the EC to respond legally. Instead, the EC chose to modify legislation to fit the actions of EU members.
As a result, trade partners are leaning on governments to let GM crops in. In late February, a U.S. trade representative asked the EU to accept the safety of GM crops.
"When Europeans come to the United States, they come and enjoy our cuisine with no concerns whatsoever," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said. "Why should we have different standards in Europe?"
Meanwhile, organic crop production continued to climb as European consumers increasingly bought organic foods and drinks despite the economic recession, and the EC continues to support nationally customized campaigns to promote switching to organic crops.
"Europe's consumers have a huge power in deciding the trends. Consumers are more conscious of the negative impact of GM crops," said Noémi Nemes, a consultant from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization Natural Resources Department.
The decrease of Czech GM crops' that started in 2009 - detailed in a 2010 Agriculture Ministry report - is a story of perpetuation. Anti-GM sentiments, justified or not, scared consumers from buying GM products. Public perception, paired with tedious legislation and high start-up costs during a recession, beat out GM crop's lure of higher yields and profits.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace point to the weak demand for GM crops as proof that GM crop production in Europe should, and will be, completely phased out in the future, citing a survey conducted by the group in which 61 percent of respondents were against the use of GM crops.
"Despite strong promotion of GM crops by the biotechnological industry, it turns out that this has been a completely unsuccessful experiment," said Greenpeace spokeswoman Lucie Jakešová. "The promoted advantages apparently didn't convince farmers."
On the contrary, said Czech Agrarian Chamber President Jan Veleba, farmers are convinced of the advantages; it's the government and consumers that are skeptics.
"Quite clearly, there is a generally negative atmosphere in Europe toward GM crops," Veleba said. "In Europe, there is a certain stigma associated with GM crops, and so the market behaves as if the crops were dangerous and harmful. ... Sometimes I hear the debate in Brussels and the views of representatives of some countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, and I feel like I am in the Middle Ages during the Inquisition, when they would burn heretical books."
What the trends in organics and GM crops means for Europe's role in guaranteeing a food supply is up for debate. The European Crop Protection Association argues outrightly against promoting organic foods, as they are more expensive and produce smaller yields.
"All too common in the debate about food security is the highly patronizing line that Europeans don't have to worry about it because we eat too much," the association says on its website. "Reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, they are saying, 'Let them eat organic (and pay more).' Unfortunately, this thinking has gained traction in Brussels."
GM crops actually make food safer, said Clive James, author of the ISAAA report, and allow small farms to compete in the market because of higher yields that can be competitive with larger farms. Bt maize is bred especially to resist Lepidoptera larvae, or corn borers, which can create toxins that are harmful to humans. That allows for reduced use of pesticides normally used to combat the bugs.
"What we are dealing with is exactly the same as the natural process. The genes are just different," James said. "You can compare it to a surgeon with a scalpel, [who] precisely cuts out one gene, sees its affect and makes sure it's safe. Technology used in conventional crops cannot do that." (James is dead wrong; GMO's inject viruses, herbicides -toxic- pesticides -toxic-, human genes and genes from other species -see:Flavr Savr Tomato. None of these inter-gene mutations ever occur in nature. If the surgeon James refers to is Frankenstein, he is spot on! Voila: FRANKENFOODS -Clean Food Earth Woman)
However, some scientists still hold that genetic modification of crops can produce potentially dangerous results, and that, in the long run, organic crops will actually cost the world less.
"If we include the environmental and health costs, the prices of GM foods would go up exponentially," Nemes said, explaining that the externalities of food production, whether health or environmental costs, are not included in the final price.
- Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.
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