Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 13, 2015. Nineteen European Union (EU) member states (Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Solvenia, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales) have opted out of approving GE cultivation except for research purposes. In the past, the EU has not been particularly fond of GE crops; currently, only one GE crop, insect resistant maize MON 810, has been approved for cultivation.
In March, the EU passed a new directive that allowed GE crops to be approved for use Union-wide. Along with the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), that directive also gave member states the ability to “adopt legally binding acts restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GMOs in their territory after such GMOs have been authorised to be placed on the Union market.” Once the opt-out applications have been processed and transmitted to the companies, they have one month to take action; that is, the companies most affected by the ban will have the chance to oppose it. Member states have cited environmental and agricultural issues as a reason for opting out and while biotechnology companies can deny them, it is likely that member states will invoke “substantial grounds” to protect their ban. “Member states … have to justify their opt-out measures – that they are motivated by an overriding reason of general interest, and are in line with the rules of the internal market,” said European Commissioner Margreth Vestayer.
And while biotechnology companies, like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, and Pioneer, might be thought to automatically seek to deny member states the right to ban the use of GE crops, it has not been the case so far. Last month, Monsanto abided by Latvia’s and Greece’s requests for a ban and stated that they “will consider any other such requests on a case-by-case basis.” That trend of acquiescence may end, though, since heavily-populated countries like Germany have joined the ranks of member states requesting a ban on GE crops, with over half of the EU opting out. Biotechnology powerhouses like Monsanto might consider ban requests more carefully in order to protect profits, considering that it is currently facing financial deficits. Although Monsanto has previously stated that it will not seek any new GE crop approvals in the EU, it may need to recover lost ground. Just two weeks ago, Monsanto announced that it would be cutting around 2,600 jobs, affecting 11.6 percent of its workers, as a result of last quarter’s unexpected loss. Sales from its prized product, Roundup (glyphosate), fell from $1.25 billion to $1.1 billion. Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a program of the World Health Organization, announced it had classified glyphosate a human carcinogen, based on laboratory animal studies.
While over half of EU’s member states are making strides to keep GE foods off their shelves, the U.S. government is sprinting in the opposite direction. In the last year, three GE crops (soybean, cotton, and corn) have been deregulated and approved for commercial use in the U.S. More recently, Senate is awaiting a vote on Bill H.R. 1599, otherwise known as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, which would preempt states by preventing state and local governments from enacting laws banning GE labels. On July 23, the House of Representatives voted to pass the DARK Act through to Senate for a vote, which could happen any day now. Environmental and industry lobbyists are racing against the clock to convince senators that GE labeling is good or bad, respectively. While 9 out of 10 Americans agree that they would prefer that GE foods bear a label, congressmen have consistently sided with profit-driven industry.
Proponents of the DARK act tout scientific studies that prove the safety of GE crops; however, numerous studies can be found that show the GE crops are much more than an extension of selective breeding. The root of the problem with GE crops lies in the implementation of their use. A prospective article found in the New England Journal of Medicine that outlines the hazards associated with food residues of elevated pesticide use in GE crops and focuses on the significance of the actual increase in herbicide use and weed resistance in herbicide-tolerant crops.
Beyond Pesticides urges consumers to pressure our government officials to guard the safety of their citizens. Legislation like the DARK Act, which has passed in the House, will place a prohibition on states’ authority to require labeling of GE ingredients in food products, instituting federal preemption of state and local authority. To get involved, contact your Senator to tell them to vote against the H.R. 1599.
In the meantime, while we wait for the National Academy of Sciences to release a new GE report (expected in 2016), the best and currently only way to avoid GE food is to support organic agriculture and eat organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic farmers do a better job of protecting biodiversity than their chemically-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and scheduled sprays, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, set action levels for pests based upon monitoring, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.