After decades of resistance by countries to E.U. directives to accept genetically engineered (GE) crops, a committee of the E.U. has acknowledged the rights of its countries to ban them. On December 3, 2014 representatives of the E.U. Parliament and E.U. member states reached agreement to allow member countries to ban genetically engineered crops in their own territory. If the whole Parliament and collective E.U. countries endorse the agreement and it goes into effect in 2015, it represents a major capitulation.
Resistance to GE crops is fueled by periodic studies that suggest they are potentially harmful to the health of either the animals or humans that consume them. An example is a study completed in 2013 and published in PLOS ONE that stated that complete genes from a GE crop are transferred whole from the human digestive system into the circulation system.
Scientists admit they do not know what the long-term effects on humans are from these genes. They also admit they do not know the mechanism that allows the genes to pass the blood barrier to enter the human circulation systems. It is this ignorance that suggests these foods should be put on hold until we know more. One Canadian scientist, David Suzuki PhD, has said that human beings are part of a “massive genetic experiment”.
Another factor causing the refusal of the E.U. member states to adopt GE crops may be the ethics of moving ahead when there are still outstanding issues to be resolved. There has been considerable work analyzing the moral issues raised by genetically modified organisms. These support a slower adoption of these crops.
Of course none of these factors are an issue in the U. S. that produces more than half the GE crops consumed around the world. GE crops were planted on 169 million acres in the U.S. in 2013. These crops (mainly corn, cotton and soybeans) are the predominant genetically engineered crops.
The U.S. market leader, Monsanto, has found terrific synergy with its herbicide “Roundup ©.” GE crops that resist Roundup © have led to a significant increase in the amount of the weed killer (glyphosate) sold as well as the seeds of crops that cannot be killed by Round-up ©. This is because they are Roundup Ready ©.
The use of Monsanto’s weed killer (Roundup) on crops that resist its influence (Roundup Ready) supposedly leads to less use of the weed killer. Critics who monitor the sale of the herbicide however see a disproportionate increase in its sales. This would indicate that farmers are indiscriminate in their use of the herbicide since they are using seeds which produce crops that are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup ©).
An open recognition of this agreement represents a failure by the E.U. and a major defeat for agricultural and chemical companies that produce and have been sponsoring the GE crops. Of interest however are the countries in the E.U. that are on each of the respective sides of the issue.
The bigger European countries of France and Germany have actively opposed planting of genetically engineered crops. They have been joined by Austria, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.
This opposition in Germany is surprising given the companies who headquarter there. Bayer AG and BASF are German companies that have supported GE crops. Why do the Germans continue to adamantly oppose planting these crops when their own business leaders recommend them?
Some of the smaller E.U. countries, presumably more susceptible to political pressure, are raising genetically engineered crops that have received approval. These countries include Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Romania and Poland. They have been joined by the UK that supports GE products. All of the other countries fall somewhere in between.
Both the E.U. reversal and the recent health studies should give encouragement to those who keep trying to get mandatory labeling passed in the U.S. They are not alone in their opposition to genetic modification of foodstuffs or in their insistence on mandatory labeling. While we may have missed the opportunity to ban these crops, there is still time to let the consumer decided what to put in their bodies. This is what labeling will accomplish.
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