EU still hasn’t got it right on GM
Monday, July 19, 2010
The EU’s recent announcement that it intends to give member states the freedom to grow genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is an important step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough. GMO imports still risk being blocked on unscientific and alarmist grounds, forcing the hand of many developing world producers who rely upon the lucrative EU export market. And the EU will continue to fund anti-GMO pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth (FoE), whose regional groups lobby developing world governments for precautionary and highly-restrictive legislation. A fairer system would be full legalisation of GM crops and imports, where each farmer could decide whether to allow or ban GM crops on their farm and each consumer could decide whether to allow or ban GM foods crops on their plate.
GM crops have the potential to revolutionise farming in the developing world. But regardless of their perceived risks and benefits, the real issue here is one of freedom of choice. It seems as though the EU has thankfully realised that such a decision is best left to local administrations. But it must loosen its control over imports as well. Currently, the EU has only authorised 18 GMOs for import out of the many thousands of varieties available. The EU health commissioner has said that, despite the reforms, “the EU-wide authorisation system... remains fully in place”. In effect, developing world exporters of GMOs will continue to be blocked, despite the decision to grow these domestically being left to independent member states.
Furthermore, the EU is likely to continue funding advocacy groups, such as Friends of the Earth Europe (who received EUR 813,721 from the EU in 2009), who run high profile anti-GMO campaigns. Last year, the Nigerian branch of FoE attempted to block preliminary testing on GM disease-resistant cassava plants, leaving the EU open to allegations of lobbying by proxy.
The science behind GMOs will long continue to be debated, but one thing is clear. If GM crops grown in Europe are good enough for our consumers, then so should those grown in the developing world. Anything else amounts to brazen eco-protectionism and unfairly marginalises developing world producers. Let’s hope the EU is a bit braver in future.