European Union Environment Ministers today endorsed a proposal to let EU governments restrict or prohibit cultivation of individual genetically modified crops at national or regional level for non-scientific policy reasons. The proposal will now be considered by the European Parliament and is expected, if adopted, to enter into force in late 2014 or during 2015.
Never mind that GM crops are virtually non-existent in Europe outside of Spain and Portugal, where they have been growing for more than 10 years and providing economic and environmental benefits to farmers and society alike. Never mind that Monsanto and other companies that sell GM crops have publicly stated their intention not to try to sell any new biotech seeds in Europe anytime soon.
The proposal makes clear that some EU member states’ objections to GM seeds are purely political and not scientific. It gives Member States that oppose GM cultivation the ability to restrict or prohibit cultivation on non-scientific grounds such as “Public Policy”, “Town and Country Planning” or “Socio-Economic Impacts”. Previously a ban could only be based on new scientific evidence, making it difficult for Member States wishing to introduce bans on scientific grounds that were rejected by the European Food Safety Authority. It is an ironic endorsement of the safety record of GM crops over more than two decades that the EU is proposing now to create a new, specifically non-scientific policy to allow its Member States to restrict or prohibit GM technology in their national territories.
Even the French Agriculture Ministry, which is no big fan of GM crops, recently felt the need to issue a report stating that, contrary to popular belief, GM seeds had “not caused any of the announced health disasters. Today, no serious scientific study confirms these fears” and “GMOs could be useful in the fight against hunger.”
The EU’s move would be tragic-comic if it didn’t send such a bad signal to the rest of the world that it’s okay to ignore science and ban things for populist purposes.
Some stakeholders have suggested that the ability of EU Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of varieties developed with GM technology on political grounds will lead to a more rational European debate on GMOs by allowing countries that want to move ahead and use it to do so. It is suggested this “unblocking” of the debate may create opportunities for Member States who wish to use GM technology and innovation in agriculture without interference from other Member States which historically have been determined to stop its use and prohibit choice. In reality, the proposed law is unlikely to have the desired effect because it provides no stable regulatory framework for investments because it allows Member States complete flexibility to “opt-in” and “opt-out” of cultivation at any time.
Monsanto’s business in Europe will continue to invest for the long term to support our European customers with innovative tools to help them grow more, better and more affordable food with less scarce resources. Monsanto has only one GM product in Europe, MON810 maize, which represents less than 1% of our sales in the region. We have no plans to introduce any other GM products for cultivation in Europe in the near future.
We will continue to review the regulatory environment in coming years both at a European level and at the national level. However, if enacted as currently drafted, this proposal is likely to reinforce the grounds for our already announced decision of investing in GM technology in regions other than Europe.
Monsanto recognizes that we need to do more to communicate about the science and technology we work with and build understanding with the wider public beyond our customers. Making agriculture more sustainable is an important goal for society globally and we firmly believe that science, innovation and the private sector have important roles to play. It’s sad to see that the EU is ambling in the opposite direction.