Controversy appears to have surrounded the 12th President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, since the very moment we came to hear his rather drolly name. Scandalous discovery that the Luxembourger presided over a corrupt tax regime, calls for parliamentary and independent inquiries, and the continuing protest and questioning of his legitimacy certainly has not helped quieten things down. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the dire state of the Eurozone.

However, we must put all that a side a moment, for Juncker has managed something worthy of brief commendation. Within 10 days of taking office in November, Juncker boldly fired the EU’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Anne Glover over her support for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Albeit there having been mounting pressure from the Greens, Greenpeace and eight other environmental NGOs, this move was seen to be a wider part of Juncker’s agenda to allow EU nation-states to ban GM crops.

Over the summer a new system was implemented to give member states the right to ban GM products from their national markets, regardless of whether products have been approved by regulators in Brussels. Only two states – Belgium and Luxembourg –voted against this decision, for fears that this may lead to a mass influx of GM foods.

To date EU regulators have approved many GM crops as safe, and there have been large quantities imported for animal feed. Yet there is a healthy opposition to GMOs throughout the EU, with many concerned about potential negative health and environmental effects.

But are these concerns justified? Dr. Roberto Bertollini the Chief Scientist and World Health Organization (WHO) representative to the EU certainly doesn’t think so. Bertollini attacked Juncker’s dismissal of Glover as an ‘unwillingness to accept independent scientific opinion’. But such a response seems to summarize the constant confounding of fact and opinion that surrounds the GMO debate.

Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, has described GM crops as a ‘failed system’, due to the failings to address potential risks of the ‘irresponsible and premature’ spread of GMOs into our environment and food-chains on the basis of ‘unsound scientific assumptions’. He warns that ‘[w]e shouldn’t expose the entire agricultural infrastructure to a massive experiment’. The significant rises of cases of Celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, food allergies, autism, endometriosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and certain types of cancers, are increasingly believed by many scientists to be linked to GM crops.

Currently the momentous and potentially monstrous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations continue. The US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has made clear his desire for TTIP to allow markets that are open to GM crops and chemically treated meats. Vilsack has stated that the EU must rethink its current bans on chlorine-washed chicken and beef from cattle raised with growth hormones. Amidst the growing pressure from the US, the EU has said it will not allow imports of meat from hormone-treated animals or alter its food safety laws to accommodate GM crops under TTIP, which covers the two.

GMOs dominate the US and South America, and the environmental and social damage is clear to see. The introduction of GM crops both initiated and continue to intensify a vicious circle where GMOs facilitate the use of an intense monoculture model of production; thus leading to a crisis of ‘super-weeds’ requiring the use of harmful and agriculturally abused chemicals such as glyphosate, posing potentially lethal human and planetary consequences. Much like the alarming threat of antibiotic resistance in the British farming industry, an unpredictable and possibly globally uncontainable dangerous pathogen new to science is being harvested in the form of GMOs.

At this very moment ecosystems and the biodiversity of countries like Mexico and Paraguay are at risk of being damaged forever, as GM crops contaminate conventional, organic and native species via gene flow, insects, and wind. If all that wasn’t enough, GM crops have also spread due to favourable policies allowing a very small number of companies to control the market for seeds and chemicals – ironically because of promises of improved weed control and cheaper crop management. As Huber explains, ‘we are willing to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations based on failed promises and flawed science just to benefit the “bottom line” of a commercial enterprise’.

The GM market is big business, in which profits for GM seeds are monopolized by a few multinationals – who happen to be one and the same as the major herbicide/pesticide companies. The violent use of herbicides, pesticides and patents have haltered innovation, restricted choice and trapped small farmers into grave debt. There have been numerous cases of multinationals buying land and planting near organic small holdings, only for their mutant patented GM crops to cross-pollinate with non-GM organic seeds, forcing farmers to buy GM seeds and be imprisoned in the corrosive processes that this entails.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has predicted a necessary increase of 60 per cent to food production inline with global population rises, and many justify the use and spread of GM crops as a solution to meet this goal. Yet, we live in a world where over a billion people are overweight, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted, and still a billion people go hungry every day.

Global trade regimes have promoted monoculture crops for export-markets over local food production. The EU’s move to allow nation-states to decide whether GM crops are grown or imported is a step in the right direction. Europe must now use its political power to enable other nations across the world to regain such freedoms. There must be stronger laws and legislation to prevent GM contamination, and a means to make agrochemical companies liable for the damage and destruction they cause. We the consumers must reclaim the global food system.

I shall end, in an uncharacteristically monarchist manner, with the words of HRH – a staunch critic of all things GM  – the Prince of Wales: ‘As is so often the case with technology, we seem to spend most of our time establishing what is technically possible, and then a little time trying to establish whether or not it is something we should be doing in the first place’.

 

Sources:

Friends of the Earth, Briefing: GM Crops and Food Security, [http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/gm_crops_food_security0.pdf]

[http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/march2012/scienceGMOsfuturegenerations.php]

[http://www.fwi.co.uk/news/usa-using-trade-deal-as-leverage-on-gm-crops.htm]