London (7.9.15) – At one end of the spectrum of EU Member States, Greece and Latvia (an odd pair, perhaps) have decided to opt out of Monsanto’s MON810 reauthorisation programme (1). This means that the company will not seek re-authorisation for those two countries under the new EU rules which allow individual Member States in effect to ban the cultivation of some or all GM-crops on their territory even though the European Food Safety Authority has pronounced them safe (2).

In a country a good deal less extreme, some of the top Irish agriculturalists have heavily criticised their government’s attitude to GMOs following the refusal of the Agricultural Commission to support and EU proposal to relax controls on GMOs because that might “excessively (?) increase the presence of GMOs within the EU food-chain” (3). Now that’s a thought, one not much favoured by Professor of Crop Science, Jimmy Burke of University College Dublin: "Europe,” he said, “has gone backwards over the last 10 years, and the situation in Ireland is only getting worse”. A very odd argument was advanced by the Commission, namely that GMO production flourished in low-income economies (the United States and Canada, presumably) and that “the expansion of GMO products across the EU may damage European economies by lowering the economic value of production. Increased yields of crops with the assistance of GMO materials could severely damage the indigenous grain industry in Ireland as such crops are generally much cheaper to produce”. In other words, don’t do anything to make agricultural products and food cheaper because that might hurt the producers. Unless, of course, increased production were to bring them a higher income sufficient to compensate for the improved efficiency.

Germany, as we have several times noted, shows very mixed responses. The governments, both federal and Land, supported by their “organic” and “environmental” friends, are pretty consistently anti-GM. The German federal government has now begun moves to ban the cultivation of GM-crops under the new UE rules (4).

Fine-tuning of anti-GM action can be seen in the political sphere: while the environment minister of the centre-left Social Democrats is backing efforts to ban cultivation of GM crops in Germany, the agriculture minister, a member of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union party, has drafted a bill that would allow German states to decide whether or not to ban GM crops. Choose between being banned by the devil or the deep blue sea.

Gil Ross in Science 2.0 (5) comments on a Wall Street Journal (6) editorial which “summarizes the European Union’s decades-long flight from science, common sense and consistency. These un- or even anti-science positions are driven by many idées fixes, baseless myths and superstitions, promulgated by ‘consumer groups’ and by deep green ‘environmentalists,’ who claim to be concerned about Mother Earth”. The Wall Street Journal article took note “of the proponents of the German-GMO ban saying they support the GMO ban based on the doctrine of ‘food democracy’ (science is not a democracy) and the even-less romantic, but perhaps more-accurate policy of the ban, promoting ;sustainable, resilient organic food production that doesn’t perpetuate the overuse of toxic herbicides.’”

"Aha", says Ross, "there’s the key". “As with most of the ‘grassroots’ and ‘consumer’ opposition to biotech improvements in agriculture, the major promoter of hysteria is Big Organic, the $100 billion dollar… oops, 90 billion euro …mega-industry. Despite the much higher profit margin of organics, supported by manufactured consumer fears of GMOs, organic lobbyists nonetheless feel no shame in attacking ‘Big Agribusiness,’ epitomized by Monsanto as the source of all Evil in the world, but especially in Europe (because it is not a European company.)”

Two decades ago Henry Miller (7) looked back into an unsavoury period of German history, when the Third Reich vilified what the regime called “degenerate art”, and was not impressed with what he saw. Now, says Miller, we have “degenerate research”, promoted by the stridency and absolutism of the activists' pronouncements whose violent tendencies are uncomfortably familiar. While the German government is not culpable in the current situation, indirectly it is aiding and abetting by neglecting to protect the personal safety and property of plant scientists against assaults by anti-biotechnology activists.

But German scientists are not lying down with their hands over their ears. Germany’s National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina has strongly endorsed genetically modified (GM) crops: Matin Qaim, a member of Lepoldina’s GMO working group and a professor of agricultural economics and rural development at the University of Göttingen said: “As scientists we are not in the business of negotiating politics”. But he indicated that the potential risk to science of remaining silent is too great. ‘A permanent ban on GMO cultivation in Germany would be a death sentence for plant biotech research in Germany.” (8). Ralph Bock, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology (9) tells his countrymen that GM is present in cheeses, sausages, herbs and even in euro notes. It is essential in our daily lives with anyone claiming otherwise acting dishonestly. It is hypocritical to allow other countries to grow masses of GM-soya for Germany. If Germany were to opt to be "GMO-free," it should be done consistently, with completely renunciation of GM-food and feed. Above all, the country avoid the hypocrisy of letting other countries grow these plants and then shipping them to Germany while calling for a "GM-free" zone. That is not only immoral but is in effect a modern form of colonialism –too high a price to maintain an illusion and to continue to sell an environmentally disguised ideology. But, both feet on the ground again, take a look at this year’s GAIN Report on Germany for a more arms-length view of the German scene (10).

Banning GM in Scotland (11) and Germany could be a boon for farmers of conventional crops in both countries but could also put further research at risk, analysts say. As a result of the ban, producers of non-GM crops in Scotland may see prices rise if demand remains strong and other countries switch to producing GM crops. Of course, the inhabitants of those and other countries may not be too happy when their food prices rise.

Coming finally back to base, things seem more buoyant in the south of the UK. Following the General Election of May 2015 and the return of the governing Conservative Party, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss remains in post. She said last January at the Oxford Farming Conference that “I think GM crops have a role to play here”. “If you look at what has happened in the U.S., crops are being grown in a more environmentally friendly way, with less water usage and less pesticide usage. I would like us to have that opportunity. Our farmers need access to technology that will help them work in world markets.” Cameron and Truss have moved the debate on and have engaged in the science that the issue has lacked: The United Kingdom and all of Europe must become more engaged in all forms of breeding techniques and ensure we keep pace with global progress (12).

To close this review, we report at that the Cereals Arable Conference in Lincolnshire a panel of industry experts said that any commercial introduction of genetically modified crops must be done with a science-based approach (13). Mark Buckingham, a spokesman for EuropaBio, the European association for bio-industries, and a panellist at the conference agreed that future approaches to introducing GM crops in the UK must stray away from political influences, the most recent of which is nationalisation by the European Union. “Supporters of GM need to work together and look at the use of GM in feeds and the supply chain and explain it to consumers – if we can import it, why can’t we grow it?”

Sources:

1. Nathan Gray (1.9.15). Greece and Latvia opt out of Monsanto MON810 re-authorisation application. Food Navigator (http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Greece-and-Latvia-opt-out-of-Monsanto-MON810-re-authorisation-application/?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=01-Sep-2015&c=v3Iz2S6y%2F0QjCkyipNJO9qYhs%2FbhRw3p&p2=)

2. A single market, they promised. CropGen (20.4.15) (http://www.cropgen.org/article_578.html)

3. Darragh McCullough (8.7.15). Government's GM policy is 'bizarre' claim scientists. Agriculture committee opposed to EU proposals to loosen GM controls. The Independent (Ireland) (http://www.independent.ie/business/farming/governments-gm-policy-is-bizarre-claim-scientists-31355983.html)

4. Nathan Gray (26.8.15). Germany moves to ban genetically modified crops. Food Navigator (http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Germany-moves-to-ban-genetically-modified-crops/?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=26-Aug-2015&c=v3Iz2S6y%2F0Qwc4nWwk8TW4miqjmJBCCW&p2=)

5. Germany versus science. Berlin threatens a U.S.-Europe trade pact by rejecting GMO food. Wall Street Journal (27.8.15) (http://www.wsj.com/articles/germany-versus-science-1440719613)

6. Gil Ross (1.9.15). Germany versus science, round two. Science 2.0 (http://www.science20.com/tip_of_the_spear/germany_versus_science_round_two-157033?utm)

7. Henry I. Miller (18.4.96). Biotechnology and the Brown Shirts. Wall Street Journal (http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=640)

8. Ned Stafford (7.4.15). Future of GM in Germany hangs in the balance. Chemistry World (http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2015/04/future-gm-crops-germany-hangs-balance)

9. Ralph Bock (27.8.15). Ohne Gentechnik geht es nicht. Zeit Online (http://www.zeit.de/wissen/2015-08/gruene-gentechnik-biotechnologie-verbraucher/komplettansicht)

10. Leif Erik Rehder (21.5.15). Germany: Annual Agricultural Biotechnology. GAIN Report Number GM15020. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (http://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Agricultural%20Biotechnology%20Annual_Berlin_Germany_5-20-2015.pdf)

11. Luke Graham (1.9.15). German, Scottish ban on GM crops could lift food prices. CNBC (http://www.cnbc.com/2015/09/01/german-scottish-ban-on-gm-crops-could-lift-food-prices.html)

12. Paul Temple (14.5.15). UK farmer makes the case to continue a science-lead approach to GM Crops. Truth about Trade & Technology (http://www.agweb.com/blog/the-truth-about-trade/uk-farmer-makes-the-case-to-continue-a-science-lead-approach-to-gm-crops/)

13. Ben Barnett (13.7.15). Scientists must lead way on GM. Yorkshire Post (http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/rural/farming/scientists-must-lead-way-on-gm-1-7309709)

 

 

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