Mohan Murti

Healthy attitude

Mohan Murti | Updated on November 26, 2013

Europe’s farmers going organic?

Europe is reducing pesticide use — without GM crops.



The European Union has some of the most stringent regulations in the world for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

While there was some hope that a free-trade agreement — also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — under negotiation between the EU and the US will eventually allow a chosen few American GMOs into the EU, the NSA spying scandal has put a strain on the talks.

As of today, only two GM crops have been approved for cultivation in Europe. The more widely grown of the two, MON810, is a type of maize that helps fight off pests. The other permitted product is a potato for industrial use called Amflora. Its waxy starch content is used for making paper.

However, most EU member states have legally banned cultivation of one or both of these crops approved at the EU level.

GMO Bans

Ever since GMO crops started expanding in the 80s and 90s, German farmers remained opposed to genetically engineered fruit and vegetables for fear of health risks and environmental contamination. . Presently, safeguard clauses on GMO food are applied in Italy, Poland, Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.

Hostility has been so strong that last year, BASF, the German chemical giant, moved its biotech division away from Germany to the US. Europe has refused to yield to America’s Monsanto, which, too, is packing up to leave.

A spokesperson of the American GM seed producer described it “political obstructionism” and said the company has now reconciled to the fact that it would focus on conventional seed peddling in the continent. The truth of the matter is Europeans do not want genetically modified crops. While GMO cultivation approvals are agreed jointly at the EU level, individual governments can introduce safeguards if they believe that cultivation could present a health or environmental risk.



Safety Standards

While most nations in the world, including India, have no GMO-free platform to protect their citizens, Europe is rapidly becoming the leading opposition to GM foods. Often referred to unsympathetically as “Frankenstein foods,” genetically modified crops have time and again been the theme of public disquiet and the target of environmental groups in Europe.

What is at stake ranges from plain, simple choices of shoppers to basic constitutional rights.

The essential foundations of the EU’s policies are tight safety standards and freedom of choice for consumers and farmers.

Serious Health Risks

European scientists repeatedly warn that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

Research also shows that Europe is reducing pesticide use and increasing yields — without GM crops. It is supportive of small-scale farming systems that protect biodiversity, increase soil fertility, provide excellent food and deal with climate change.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.)

Published on November 26, 2013

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