The fresh controversy about GMOs is fully justified – the science does not have public support and there are potential risks to health and the environment, writes MEP
Genetically modified organisms were back in the news this week as a new study
from the University of Caen in France found that rats fed a diet of Monsanto's genetically modified corn, or exposed to its bestselling Roundup weedkiller, developed tumours and suffered multiple organ damage.
The headlines and controversy about the safety of GM products are justified. There are serious problems with GMOs, especially concerning potential risks to health and the environment and the rising corporate command over what we eat by a small number of companies dominating the sector: Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont and Dow.
Despite this, and major public opposition – Eurobarometer surveys show
that 59 per cent disagree that GM food is safe for their health and that of their family – the European Commission remains sympathetic to GM farming. The mind-bogglingly expensive and influential lobbying campaign that has been waged by the GM industry in Brussels over the last decade might have something to do with this.
The European Parliament recently rejected the nomination of an ex-Monsanto employee to the management board of the 'independent' European Food Safety Authority, and in May of this year, MEPs warned EFSA that it must take serious action against conflicts of interest, especially when it comes to the food and biotech industry.
But no lobbying or networking campaign, no matter how expensive or connected to the corridors of power, can dispel the fears surrounding the biotech industry's ambitions. GM crops pose a lot of problems for both farmers and consumers. Poor farmers in developing countries cannot afford expensive GM technology. The prospective socio-economic impacts are frightening with farmers at risk of being prohibited from saving seeds for planting the following season.
Underlying the case for GM crops, there is some very shaky science. Researchers continue to understand little about how genes interrelate when tampered with. These GMOs could contend or reproduce with wild species and jeopardise biodiversity. The European Court of Justice recently forced Bavarian beekeepers to declare their organic honey as GM because of contamination from nearby Monsanto crops.
If genetically modified crops thrive, natural species could be lost. An additional problem is that the corporate nature of biotechnology produce and processes could make independent research tricky in the future.
The transmission of genetically modified products into the regular food chain is another potential quandary. We know that unauthorised GM products have appeared in the food chain and it is widely accepted that the risk assessment of genetically modified plants by EFSA is inadequate. Earlier this year the commission broke some long-held fence-sitting on the issue and approved the cultivation of GM potato Amflora.
However, while several other GM crops are currently awaiting approval, the Environment committee of the parliament this week heard EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle state her intention to examine in-depth the French rat study and express the need for further research into GMOs and pesticides. The need for clarity is paramount.
With my Dutch colleague, Kartika Liotard, I sent a written question to the health commissioner John Dalli this week to request a review of the commission's GMO policy. We are looking for the withdrawal of rules that prohibit member states from banning the cultivation of GMOs on human health and environmental grounds. We also want a ban on all imports into the EU of the Monsanto products tested in the recent French research and the adoption of new limits on the glyphosate content of Roundup weed killer which remains on the market in all 27 member states.
Our position is 'GM zero tolerance' and our ultimate goal is to end GM agriculture so that we can move towards better management of sustainable agriculture, the only real solution to food security.
Nikos Chountis MEP is a member of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament