By Eve Mitchell
What a result! Too bad about poor old England.
In a rush of requests to meet the 3 October deadline, 19 of the 28 EU Member States grabbed the chance to lodge formal requests to opt out of genetically modified (GM) crops using new powers brought into law earlier this year. This means that not only do a majority of countries want out of the GM crop experiment in all or part of their territories, but they represent over two-thirds of Europe’s population and two-thirds of our cropland.
The message is clear – we don’t want GM agriculture.
I’ll be watching very carefully to see if any of these requests for bans are denied by the companies concerned (including Monsanto). It was never a good idea, and clearly a conflict of interest, for the law to require countries to ask GM companies for the right to be excluded from the sale of its products, but the result shows how many countries are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep GM crops out.
The UK is a sad exception. Despite the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments all exercising their powers to ban GM crops in their territories, the central UK Government couldn’t muster the strength to include England, which doesn’t have powers of its own, in the process. How the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can justify its failure to secure a UK-wide GM crop ban, or how it intends to prevent cross-border contamination, particularly when some fields cross those borders, seem like reasonable questions. You can ask them directly here.
I’ll also be watching to see the GM industry’s next move. It is, of course, hopping mad about the strength of feeling the power to ban has stirred. In desperation it is even trying to suggest that Europe’s rejection of GM crops “sends a negative signal for all innovative industries considering investing in Europe“. Hardly. The doors are wide open for innovative technologies delivering sustainable agriculture, and Europe now has a clear path to lead the world in that work instead of continuing to sink precious time and money into chasing GM rainbows.
Now that we’ve had a moment to celebrate, let’s not forget the bigger problem: Europe’s rejection of GM crops at home (where only one variety is grown in a few places) is simply not reflected in its approach to GM crops elsewhere. The EU continues to import GM commodities to fuel its factory farms, and the impacts of that GM cultivation are devastating for the communities involved. It isn’t quite so green to ban GM crops here while exporting the damage done onto others who have a harder time defending themselves.
Well done Europe for standing up to the GM juggernaut. Now it’s time to take the harder step of standing up for what’s right when it isn’t so easy. If GM crops are bad for us, they are bad everywhere, and we need to help others escape the GM treadmill or face reasonable accusations of hypocrisy we’ll find increasingly hard to answer.