MEPs, NGOs at odds over effect of Europe’s GMO stance on developing world

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It took Europe three years to break the deadlock on Genetically Modified Organisms. The European Parliament decided last month to give member states the choice to ban or allow the cultivation of GM crops.

Though GMOs are widely used in the US and Asia, here, in Europe, there is huge opposition.

“I think it was the best compromise for the moment. We know that it is very much emotionally discussed and a lot of citizens are very much against it, so we have to respect this opinion,” said EPP MEP Elisabeth Koestinger.

The Parliament’s decision raises concerns about consumer protection, safety for farmers and how the single market will operate between countries with opposing positions.

There are also concerns outside Europe. What impact will the EU’s decision have on the developing world?

In Sub-Sahara Africa, 7 out of 10 people are farmers, but the continent still has to rely on imports and food aid to feed itself, spending around 50 billion dollars per year buying food from the developed world.

In a recent visit to Brussels, Bill and Melinda Gates pointed to innovation in farming as a potential solution to erase food dependance and malnutrition.

“Having a drought resistant maize, which is a GMO, which an African farmer, male or female, can get 20 to 30 per cent additional yield off of their farm? We think it is up to Kenya and Tanzania and South Africa to decide, is that right for their economy?” said Melinda Gates, Co-chair and operator at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Conservative MEP Julie Girling goes even further, claiming that putting an end to research in Europe will ‘slow down” Africa’s ability to feed itself. Europe, she says, is being selfish.

“Europe has a role in producing technological advance for the developing world, which is beyond profit, it’s about our duty.”

“I can’t explain to you the attitude of people who are vey anti-GM, because I simply don’t understand it. I don’t think it’s supported by scientific evidence. To me, it is emotional, but I would like them to look more carefully at parts of the world where this products are really useful and ask themselves whether it’s right for Europe to say: We are much too suspicious, we are much too refined to have this product for us, so you can’t have it. I think that’s entirely wrong. It’s not just selfish, it’s bordering on criminal,” said ECR MEP Julie Girling.

Unlike the Gates Foundation, other organisations such as Greenpeace claim that GMOs are not the right solution for the developing world. To them, the solution is not increasing crop yield but improving the socio-economic environment.

“Farmers in the south have specific problems, the problems are not linked to the seeds. So what would help them is a very simple change in farming practices, storage and transport capacity, that farmers need today. What does it help a farmer, in a small subsistence farm in the south to buy a patented expensive GM seed, than he then has to buy the chemical for, to treat the crop. It makes no sense for them,” Greenpeace EU food policy expert Franziska Achterbeg stated.

For now, the debate is clarified but far from over. Agriculture is one of the most controversial points in the ongoing EU-US free trade talks, meaning that vocal opposition to GMOs in Europe is likely to continue for quite some time.

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