The European Parliament has passed new legislation allowing member states to make up their own minds on banning genetically modified crops.
Our colleagues at the UK SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dr Julian Little, Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said:
“This initiative was a laudable attempt by some countries, including the UK, who wanted to see sustainable, productive agriculture in Europe, but who were being frustrated by other countries that appeared to be committed to an EU Centre for Museum Agriculture. Unfortunately, the vote today appears to give the latter the right to ban GM crops in their countries with the minimum of reason, with very little latitude for those countries who want their farmers to have the choice to grow GM varieties.
“That said, it is great to see so much discussion around the subject; perhaps the European Commission should take note and instigate change to allow farmers and consumers real choice in the market place.”
Prof Cathie Martin, Group Leader at the John Innes Centre, said:
“We welcome this decision and the fact that once evaluated as safe by EFSA, new crops can progress beyond the political logjam that has prevented UK farmers and consumers benefitting from biotechnological improvements to crops.
“We would only support cultivation of crops that have been assessed by EFSA as safe.
“If this decision leads to commercial GM crops being grown by UK farmers who see benefits from use of fewer pesticides, sustainable yields and environmental improvements, then demand for these will increase. We have to wait and see how governments and commercial companies respond to this decision.”
Prof Chris Pollock, Honorary Research Professor at Aberystwyth University, said:
“From the standpoint of evidence-based regulation to manage risk effectively, the EU is a disaster area.
“Firstly it picks on agrochemicals and starts hazard-based regulation. This is equivalent to saying that electricity is hazardous so we’ll ban it even though there are perfectly adequate ways of minimising risk. Now it is saying that it has a good (if cumbersome) way of assessing GM risk (EFSA) but even when there is no evidence of significant harm to human health or the environment, it will let individual nations make arbitrary decisions not based on risk management. Finally it refuses to accept the huge weight of evidence that shows that it is the phenotype that is significant, not the processes used to generate it, and move towards product-based risk management.”
Professor Nigel Brown, President, Society for General Microbiology
“While it is important that we fully understand the modification that we make to crops and other genetically-modified organisms, to ban GMOs completely will relegate countries to the dark ages of science. GM crops will help feed a growing population and require fewer herbicides and pesticides. I would have thought that was a desirable outcome.”
Professor Joe N. Perry, Chair of the EFSA GMO Panel, said:
“The EU has a stringent regulatory system for GM safety assessment. But it is not overly stringent – the data requested are proportionate to the risk. Approvals for GMOs are based on evidence and data. They are transmitted via publically available scientific opinions published by the European Food Safety Authority. These opinions are written by a panel of 20 independent academic experts.
“As a result, half a billion European consumers can be assured that when an opinion declares food from a GM crop plant to be safe, it can be consumed with confidence. The current delay in approvals to import and cultivate GM crops within the EU is due to political disagreements, not due to disagreements over the quality of the risk assessments, for which there is a strong consensus amongst scientists across a range of disciplines including genetics, toxicology and ecology.”
“Of those crops already approved or in the pipeline for approval by the EC, none is appropriate for UK conditions, because they are Bt maize varieties which protect against insect pests that are not agricultural problems here.
“Alternative crops such as herbicide-tolerant maize and sugar beet would be more appropriate, but these are not currently under consideration. Companies have been withdrawing applications for cultivation in Europe after having become convinced that it was not worthwhile to maintain trying to overcome the obstacles placed against commercialization by certain Member States.”
Prof Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said:
“Devolving decisions down to national level will allow each country to make up their own mind and thereby free up GM technology from the pressure of intense anti-GM lobbying at the centre of the EU. Farmers and consumers across the EU will be more accepting of GM technology when they can see its benefits across their borders.”
Professor Perry declares no conflicts of interest. All of his interests are declared on the EFSA website and may be downloaded freely. He has never received a penny piece for any of his work on GM from any commercial company.
Dr Little is an employee of Bayer Cropscience Ltd, which researches and develops GM products.