Genetically modified (GM) organisms, from microbes to plants and mammals, are one of the most controversial topics in the world. While ones defend their potential applications, others worry about their safety and environmental impacts. Considering the apparent lack of consensus, the European Commission approved last Monday new rules for GM crops (e.g. corn, soy, cottonseed, sugar beet, maize). Only GM maize (MON 810) is approved and commercially cultivated in the EU so far.
“The new rules will give member states the freedom of choice: they can decide whether they want GM crops to be cultivated in their territory or not. This is in line with the subsidiary principle and respects citizens’ and farmers’ preferences”, said Jānis Dūklavs, the Latvian minister for agriculture and President of the Council.
The new directive gives to the 28 EU member states more flexibility on GM crops’ cultivation at two time points:
- During authorization procedure, when a member state can ask to amend the geographical scope of the application.
- After the approval, a member state may ban or restrict the cultivation of GM crop on grounds such as those related to environmental or agricultural policy objectives, or other compelling grounds such as town and country-planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, co-existence and public policy.
Civil society groups and the European Parliament have criticized the law as governments would still have to consult biotech companies when banning a GM crop.
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said “this new law is a massive opportunity for national governments to shut the door on biotech crops in Europe” and warned against the “serious safety issues of growing GM crops”.
Allergies and antibiotic resistance to other organisms have been linked to GM crops. However, no studies confirm such claims. In contrast, the alarming consequences of vertical gene transfer between GM organisms and their wild-type counterparts have been highlighted in few studies. Long-term tests and epidemiological studies should be performed to assess the overall safety of GM organisms.
On the other side, Prof. Huw Jones, research team leader at Rothamsted Research’s Centre for Crop Genetic Improvement, hopes the new directive will lead to more GM crop approvals in the UK. “It’s a step in the right direction; it will free up the current blockages in the approvals process and hopefully pave the way for more GM food approvals in the UK”, he said. Better quality, more efficient production are just two of potential advantages of GM crops’ cultivation.
Discussion about pros and cons about GM organisms will continue during the next years, independently of EU decision. Do you think they are safe? What will be the future of GM crops in the EU?