GMOs in Europe

GMO corn (Mon 810) is grown in 5 European member states (Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania) involving a total of 150,000 hectares of land (Source: European Commission). Even more GMO corn is consumed: to satisfy the high demand for meat, the European Union in fact requires 36 million tonnes of soy a year to feed livestock. The EU only produces 1.4 million of these (non-GMO, as the cultivation of genetically modified soy in the EU is unauthorized). The livestock sector in the EU therefore significantly depends on the production of animal feed in third party countries. In 2013 the EU imported 18,5 million tonnes of soy flour and 13,5 millions tonnes of soy, representing more than 60% of plant protein needs in the entire European Union.

EU legislation requires any food or animal feed containing or constituted by a GMO product, to be labeled, unless the GMO presence is inferior to 0.9% of the product, if it is accidental or technically inevitable. EU legislation does not prohibit the use of “GMO-Free” labels, such as those adopted in Austria, France and Germany for food and animal feed.

On April 2, a new system for the authorisation of GMO cultivation in Europe was introduced: member states can now prohibit or limit the cultivation of GMO crops for reasons involving, for instance, environmental or agricultural policy objectives or other factors relating to urban and spatial planning, land-use, social-economic impact, coexistence and public order. Unfortunately the directive is too vague as to the environmental reasons that a member state can invoke to motivate its decision, leaving space for these to be contested by the agro-industry at the Court of Justice. Furthermore, the prohibition or restriction of GMO cultivation on the territory of a member state cannot in any way limit the circulation of GMO food products within the confines of the state itself.

The same problem is now being faced with the European Commission’s new proposal on the import of GMO food and feed. The Commission proposes modifying current legislation, giving member states more freedom to limit or prohibit the use of GMOs authorised at EU level in food or animal feed sold in their countries.

61% of European citizens believe the GM foods are not safe (Source: Eurobarometer). Last April, however, the European Commission authorized the import of 19 genetically modified plants, 10 of which for human consumption, seven for animal feed and two ornamental cut flowers. Never before had so many GMOs been authorised in a single day. To date 58 GMOs for human and animal consumption are authorised within the EU (among which corn, cotton, soy, rapeseed and sugar beet).

Experts continue to point out that GMO risks have not yet been exhaustively investigated. The risk of combining various GMOs in our diets, in particular, has not yet been evaluated. 7 of the 19 authorised GMOs have been modified to resist 4 different groups of herbicides: the impact of pesticide residue or effects of a combination of these have not, however, been taken into account. Three types of GMO soy have modified oil contents, whose health benefits have been praised but, to date, no experiments have been carried out proving said claims. Authorised GMO corn has been modified to become more adaptable to droughts, but there do not seem to be any significant advantages compared to conventional varieties. Mostly, there are uncertainties when it comes to the environmental and human health risks associated with this type of corn. Experts are also concerned about Monsanto GMO rapeseed, which could begin to disseminate uncontrallably due to spillages during transport.

“The attack against high quality agriculture is now shameless and extreme,” said Slow Food Italy’s Vice-President, Cinzia Scaffidi, commenting on the European Commission’s decision, “with such decisions on GMOs and TTIP negotiations, citizens are left no other choice but to carry out an equally fierce attack. Politically, we should stop trusting those who don’t have any other point of reference if not multinational corporations, who pose a daily threat to our health and that of the planet by treating food as a commodity. Let’s individually equip ourselves to choose our food, know exactly what we eat and look after ourselves and eachother, since those who represent us have no intention of doing so. There are many producers of high quality foods and they are increasingly easy to reach. Let us turn to them. We are not condemned to eating GMOs: if citizens refuse to buy them, producers will have no interest in growing them,” concluded Scaffidi.


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