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More Than Half The 28 Countries In European Union Ban Genetically Modified Crops

In the west, it's almost impossible to avoid all genetically modified organisms (GMO) in foods, however educating yourself can make a big difference in the percentage of GMO foods you purchase. It will take a drastic policy change in government to eliminate them from the food supply. If we have any sense in bringing GMOs to their demise, we will follow the European Union model now in place. More than half the 28 countries in the EU, including Germany and France, have decided to ban their farmers from growing genetically modified crops. Several regions, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also joined the movement.

GMO yellow sign with the corn crop in the background

Environmental groups long opposed to GM crops are delighted with the outcome. "There has never been a clearer signal that GM crops, and the companies that make them are not wanted in Europe," says Mute Schimpf, of Friends of the Earth Europe. "The technology is not only risky, it's redundant," he says. "And people and the governments that represent them are rejecting them outright."

The United States, Canada, China, UK, Australia, Mexico, and most of South America, Asia and Africa still have no formal GMO-free platforms and their use is typically unrestricted and widespread.

The United States is still a leader in GM cultivation and now grows mostly GM varieties of corn, canola and soy. Hawaii now grows GM papayas. Approvals have also been given for GM alfalfa, zucchinis, beet sugar and tomato varieties, though not all are currently being grown. In 2010, the US planted 66.8 million hectares of soybean, maize, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugarbeet. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by Monsanto.

Corporate lobbyists in the U.S. have been very effective in preventing any GMO labeling legislation from being enacted into law. Part of the emphasis on GMO labeling by activist groups seems to be misguided and misinformed at best. GMOs litter the entire food supply. There are thousands of foods containing GMO ingredients. Labeling them all would work against awareness campaigns because there wouldn't be many foods left without the label. In the sea of GMO foods, consumers would essentially ignore the warnings and eventually their attention would be immune to such labeling standards.
The only way to truly get rid of GMOs is to ban GM crops as most of the EU is now actively pursuing.

Some 19 member states had applied ahead of the deadline of 3 October to take advantage of rules introduced in April permitting individual member states and regions to ban cultivation of GM crops that have been judged by Europe's regulators as posing no risk to human health or the environment.

Countries seizing the opportunity to opt out include Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Regions within member states have also joined the exodus, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium.

De Facto Ban

Their decisions will have little impact on farmers on a practical level because there has long been a de facto ban on growing GM crops in most of the countries that are opting out. Only one GM crop has ever been approved and grown in Europe -- a type of maize with in-built resistance to a weevil called the European corn borer -- but the only farmers to grow it are primarily in Spain where the weevils are a problem.

The opt-out provision has angered countries that want to grow GM crops.

"The opt-out is made to enable anti-technology countries to prevent their farmers from growing it," says Beat Spath of EuropaBio, a trade association representing biotechnology companies. "But there's nothing in it at all for pro-technology countries."

Even if some countries want to grow a new GM crop, anti-GM countries can delay Euro-wide approval of it for years by voting against approving it.

Without a majority vote, any crop already scientifically checked for safety remains in legal limbo until the European Commission approves it by default, but the commission has consistently failed to follow through on this obligation.

Some crops deemed scientifically as safe throughout the EU have been on hold by the union's bureaucracy for as much as 14 years, says Spath. As a result of the impasse, companies have abandoned even trying to get crops through the system.

Early in 2013, Poland had become the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. At that time, seven other EU member states had already imposed bans on the cultivation of GM crops approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as safe: Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria. Shortly after Italy joined the ranks.

Free Movement

Despite the enthusiasm with which many countries have embraced the opt-out provision for cultivation, there has been almost unanimous rejection during parliamentary discussions about this proposal so far and by the parliament's agriculture and environment committees of another proposal -- to allow opt outs from imports of GM fodder.

The proposal was put forward earlier this year by the European Commission to introduce an opt-out provision on GM fodder, which is imported mainly from South and North America, where 90 per cent of the soya bean crop is GM.

Farmers around Europe -- including in many countries that oppose growing GM crops -- depend on the imports for feeding livestock.

If the Parliament votes on 26 October to reject the commission's proposal for animal feed opt outs, the commission says it has no plan B to resolve the situation.

"It would be very damaging to the open market," says Helen Ferrier, scientific and regulatory affairs adviser for the UK National Farmers' Union. "These products move into the EU and move round freely, as do the animals they're fed to, so it would be very difficult for individual countries to have bans in place that stop movement of products."

"Countries that are anti-GM also feed their animals GM feed," says Spath. "It's ironic that the countries that vote against approval of GM crops still import large amounts of GM ingredients for their animals."

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