Agriculture must be an action of freedom. That is why new GMOs do not have to be deregulated

06 Feb 2024

If one thing is clear these days, it’s that we are in an election campaign. What public opinion perhaps did not expect—though it’s hardly surprising—is that agriculture would be the spark for political debate. But the signals were, in fact, unmistakable. For several months, we have seen a weakening of the ambitions of the Eu Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, and now a rapid and decisive reversal.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a somewhat unsettling common thread that ties the current European strategic vision on agriculture to the strengthening of an industrial model aimed at keeping farmers on the brink of failure and totally dependent. The dilution of the strategy to reduce pesticides, the troubled path of the nature conservation law, the renewal of glyphosate authorization for another decade, the distorted view on cultured meat, the absence of any strategy on soil conservation and a lack of courage in the Common Agricultural Policy are all signs that indicate a shift away from the goals of climate neutrality and ecological transition.

This shift begins with the agricultural sector, which is affected by and also contributes to the climate crisis.

Animal, environmental, social and economic well-being are all interconnected elements that require a systemic approach. To truly address ecological transition and climate peace, a balance must be found, with the awareness that any action with a negative effect on the environment takes years to be repaired, reversed and returned to equilibrium. This is why production and the environment cannot be antagonists, and the opposition between farmers and environmentalists is an unacceptable manipulation.

Challenging the Path to Sustainable Agriculture: The Deregulation Debate on New GMOs in Europe

For months, we have witnessed a distortion of the path towards true sustainability. Currently the final steps are being taken towards a vote (scheduled for February 7) on the European Commission’s proposal to deregulate new GMOs, after a process filled with obstacles and conflicts due to the numerous concerns that this political action raises and its feared consequences. The French Food Safety Agency has emphasized that there is insufficient scientific data to overcome the precautionary principle. There are multiple concerns about environmental issues related to biodiversity contamination and the predictable further spread of industrial agricultural models, as well as social repercussions from the loss of transparency for the food on supermarket shelves and of the freedom of farmers to choose to cultivate without resorting to new GMOs.

Given this perspective, it is truly surprising that the European Commission has not deemed further investigation necessary. This is why there is a high risk of defeat, yet another defeat, in front of the power of the big agro-industry lobbies and agricultural multinationals who see in the new GMOs another tool to boost profits at the expense of farmers, consumers and the environment, obscuring their image with the smoke of greater sustainability falsely flaunted by the political forces promoting this path.

Introducing laboratory-produced plant diversity into nature from one day to the next can have unpredictable repercussions, and it would be at least correct, as well as appropriate, to trust in the precautionary principle, which is based on time, evaluation and safety for the environment, citizens and the future of farmers.

Agriculture must absolutely be an action of freedom, the freedom of choice for both producers and consumers, in line with the responsibility at the heart of the 12th Sustainable Development Goal of the UN Agenda 2030.

How can one think of freedom, for example, if transparency on labels and proper traceability is not supported? What is being hidden when transparent labeling is being hindered?

We are at a crossroads.

We are dealing with the shortsightedness of those who do not want to look far ahead at the challenges that an anthropized ecosystem will increasingly have to face. What we need is a search for real solutions, not support for a production-oriented approach, monocultures and industrial models of agricultural production.

The on-going protests in Brussels and elsewhere are clear evidence that this approach has not paid off. Instead it has contributed to fueling the climate fragility for which farmers, especially virtuous ones, are paying dearly. But the climate crisis must be addressed with a structural approach, not by coming up with quick solutions full of uncertainty. The only certainty behind these new technologies is that they are, in fact, GMOs. If they have already failed to achieve their stated goal of reducing global food insecurity, it is not clear why they should be effective now.

The real answer is that we do not need them.

We need agroecology and support for production policies in harmony with ecosystems that conserve the agricultural landscape and the traditions that have made Italy and the rest of Europe great for centuries. And we need these issues to truly occupy the political agenda, also during the election campaign, but in a constructive, cautious and realistic way, without pressure and without being forgotten after June 10.

Francesco Sottile, Slow Food Board Member

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