The days when Europeans were feeling somewhat protected from the onslaught of genetically modified crops in their countryside may soon be over. After a 12-year moratorium on new Genetically Modified Organisms in the European Union, the European Commission (the executive body of the EU) published today proposals that will crack the European market wide open for the benefit of Monsanto and its ilk if the European Parliament and member states approve.
The scheme is as extraordinary as it is simple : in a effort to break the 1998 deadlock between the member states over GM regulation, the Commission is proposing to GIVE BACK to its members their national sovereignty over GM crops policy on their territory. Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden, strong proponents of GM food, will thus be free to carpet their plains and valleys with biotech crops (mostly corn and soy for animal feed and additives in processed packaged food). Simultaneously, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Luxembourg will be free to politely decline.
For one, seeds and pollen know no borders. As many farmers have experienced in North-America, much to their dismay, GM seeds tend to take root even on land where they are not welcome. Secondly, states who decide to ban GM crops on their territory may soon find themselves overpowered in court when sued by the industry. “They will find the bans overturned in court by biotech lawyers due to the weak legal basis of this short-term proposal,” Mute Schimpf of Friends of the Earth Europe told “The Guardian” in reference to the Commission’s text.
Why is Europe’s move such a big deal?
After all, according to the biotech industry, the agribusiness industry, and many governments including the U.S. administration, GMO are safe, properly tested and necessary to feed a hungry, and predictably getting hungrier, world.
On the other side of the argument, however, environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists (sometimes at the risk of compromising their career) are denouncing the scam of patenting living organisms and robbing farmers of the free use of seeds grown on their own land; the flaws of the system that is supposed to protect the public; the demonstrated health risks; the contamination of traditional crops; the social and economic devastation caused by a small coterie of corporations in control of a bigger and bigger share of global crops.
GMO world leading champion Monsanto is an American company and its influence over the U.S. government is well documented. In this context, it comes as no surprise that Washington has been repeatedly complaining to the World Trade Organization that Europe’s attempts to block GM crops and unlabeled GM food products are an illegal restraint of free trade. Furthermore, the Administration has been trying to strong-arm the international community into banning the labeling of GM foods. While more and more consumers are becoming weary of “Frankenstein Foods” and are demanding proper labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, the U.S. remains a glaring exception in its refusal to allow GMO/non-GMO labeling of food products (“supported” by Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina). Tip: this is one more reason in the U.S to buy food labeled “organic”: no food can be labeled as such in this country unless it is non-GMO.
For those of us who are not convinced that GMO hold the promise of a better tomorrow, and who are weary of Monsanto’s growing influence on the world’s food supply, let’s remember that consumers (that’s you and me) retain some significant power by the virtue of their checkbook. And let’s trust in their ability to effectively defend and push for GMO labeling (European consumers are now demanding labeling for meat raised on GMO feed).
Finally, I’ll leave you with the rather optimistic note of this report about dwindling GM crops in Europe. Of course, we’re left hoping that Bruxelles didn’t just offer Monsanto the key to overturn the trend.