Will Europe Give in to Genetically Modified Foods?

By Eliza Strickland | June 19, 2008 3:30 pm

rice plantsThus far, Europe has never had a friendly attitude towards genetically modified (GM) foods. In contrast to the United States, most European governments have adopted the “precautionary principle” in dealing with this new technology, arguing that GM crops should be proven safe to both human health and the environment before farmers plant their fields with them. But as concerns about the world food supply grow, at least one nation is reconsidering that stance.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to attend a European Union summit today, where he will urge the assembly to consider the potential benefits of genetically engineered crops. Britain’s environment minister says, “There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves… Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue,” he said [BBC News].

The biotech companies that create the genetically engineered plants have long held out the promise that their products could increase crop yields, require less water, and reduce the need for pesticides, among other benefits. Boosters point to inventions like “golden rice,” a genetically engineered rice plant that naturally produces beta-carotene, which could prevent vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries.

But such examples have done little to sway public opinion in Europe. In 2004, after a heated public debate, the [British] Government decided there was no scientific case for a blanket ban on GM crops. But amid fears over so-called “Frankenstein foods”, it decided that commercial production would be allowed on a case-by-case basis, only if evidence showed it would not pose a risk to human health or the environment. There are no GM crops being grown in Britain and only one trial is taking place – of GM potatoes in Cambridgeshire [The Independent].

Even if European Union officials decide to ease restrictions, agricultural researchers say they don’t yet know how much the modified crops could help the developing world, where food shortages and escalating prices have led to scattered riots. Agriculture experts at the UN and in developing countries do not expect GM crops on their own to radically improve yields, but nor are they ready to write them off when they can offer resistance to drought and pests. The main trouble, they argue, is that almost all the research has been devoted to developing crops for rich countries in the northern hemisphere [The Guardian].

Image: flickr/m-louis

Related Post: Biofuels or Cheap Food: Do We Have to Choose?

  • Mwana Mwega

    I hope the decision that Europe will reach on genetically modified foods will be science-based. Europe’s current position on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) jeopardizes other countries’, especially in Africa, chances of experimenting on crop genetic engineering. For instance, Africa can’t grow GMO crops because of fear of jeopardizing their agricultural exports to European markets.

  • jeremy

    do not trust biotech companies that says they can feed the world. they cannot. they are for profit companies, answerable to their shareholders. that is the engine that drives them not the welfare of the people who will consume their food. they are regarded mearly as income providers and the more income that can be squeezed out of them……by whatever means…..is their only concern. these are not benevolent organisations, no matter what they say their intentions are. profit is their only driving principal, not the health and welfare of their customers. remember, they probably own the drug companies you will have no option but to turn to when the long term effects of consuming these products finaly take their toll

  • Lacey

    By stating, “Africa Can’t grow GMO crops because of fear of jeopardizing their agricultural exports to European markets” brings up two interesting points.

    First: Should farming in Africa be export-based? If those in Africa are experiencing the worst of the hunger crisis, producing for export will NOT put food on their tables; rather farming should be intended for local production and diversified for nutritional security. This idea is supported by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology, sponsored by the United Nations.

    Second: The above statement, though maybe not intended, supports the industry’s steadfast pursuit to lift the banned on GE in Europe. Lifting the banned would allow GE corporations to expand their markets and increase their profits—which has nothing to do with those suffering in Africa.

    I want to see the data behind the industry’s claim that “their products could increase crop yields, require less water, and reduce the need for pesticides, among other benefits.”

  • Eric

    Imagine this reality. All plants will be patented by companies, thus owning the rights to all food. Think about the power those companies will hold over the world.

    This isn’t science fiction, it has already happened in the U.S. to soy beans.

  • Jonathan Summers

    According to the conclusions of leading experts in Russia, Genetically Modified Foods are nothing short of Bio-terrorism and companies such as Monsanto pushing them on Europe and, particularly, Third World Nations must be held accountable. On the other hand, if the goal is to reduce the world’s population to the golden billion, GMFs are the weapon of choice.

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  • hussein

    I think GMO is the solution of the hunger in the world either in EU or AU.
    in addition, the North America is leading GM technology, and we ought to feed the world regardless any political issue.

  • bert

    only corrupt idiots go for GMOs regardless of all the health dangers they bring into our lives


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