Trade chief requests EU ‘green light’ for GMOs

Unless the EU closes the gap between its own GMO-approval system and those of feed-exporting countries such as US, Argentina and Brazil, “hungry cows”, “struggling farmers” and trade disputes at the WTO will become commonplace, warned Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

“There is an economic risk in Europe if we fall behind the global economy in approving safe biotechnology,” said Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in a speech to the European Biotechnology Open Day on 14 June. 

Rather than shying away from genetically modified food, Europe should take the lead in shaping a global system of clear, science-based safety rules, he said.

The EU’s general moratorium, which effectively prevented any GMOs from being marketed in the EU for a five-year period, was lifted in 2004, but only a few products have since been given the go-ahead, due to the EU’s complex and stringent authorisation system. 

“We must be under no illusion that Europe’s interests are served by being outside a global market that is steadily working its way through the issues raised by GM food. They are not,” said Mandelson. 

He argued that, with the world’s population projected to reach nine billion by 2050, food demand will double, while the fight against climate change will also require agriculture to produce more energy crops and raw materials for industry. “It is simply not responsible or defensible to calmly refuse to assess the role of GM food in meeting those demands,” the commissioner stressed. 

One concern is that, as the EU’s major suppliers of animal foods such as soybeans approve new GM varieties, Europe could find it increasingly difficult to source GM-free animal feed that is approved under EU rules. “Unless we can close the gap between GMO approvals in the EU and in feed-exporting countries such as US, Argentina and Brazil we may have hungry cows and struggling farmers,” said Mandelson. 

While he believes that Europe should maintain its strong safety standards, he stressed that it must stop backtracking on approvals when science has proven that a product is safe. “If we fail to implement our own rules, or implement them inconsistently, we can – and probably will – be challenged,” he said, pointing to growing discontent in developing countries, which he says increasingly view the EU’s stringent safety standards as an impediment to trade or even as hidden protectionism – stifling the production of a technology that could potentially break the cycle of malnutrition and starvation. 

Nnimmo Bassey of the African branch of the green NGO Friends of the Earth nevertheless rejects this argument, saying: “No GM crop on the market today offers benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price, and to date these crops have done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere.” 

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