By Mute Schimpf - 18th February 2014
To add insult to injury, many farmers who can’t adequately protect their crops from GM contamination are then sued for breaching biotech companies’ patent rights
The European commission are pushing ahead with the introduction of genetically modified maize despite public and political opposition, writes Mute Schimpf.
Last week, a record number of governments spoke out in opposition to a new genetically modified (GM) maize, that biotech company Pioneer, and the European commission are trying to push on to European fields.
The maize represents a new generation of highly toxic crops, producing an insecticide 350 times more lethal than that used for Monsanto's MON810 maize, the only other GM crop grown commercially in the EU. It is designed to also withstand a powerful weed-killer, due to be phased out over safety concerns.
Europe's own safety experts concluded that Pioneer's new maize could harm butterflies and moths, and that other impacts on our countryside are unknown.
Yet, there is no demand for GM crops. Genetically modified crops have been overwhelmingly rejected as food and all leading European supermarkets and food companies phased-out products containing GM ingredients more than 10 years ago.
Even in Spain, the only European country with significant quantities of GM crops, the entire crop is used for animal feed.
They are an outdated, profit-driven technology. After more than 20 years of research, funded largely by taxpayers’ money, the biotech industry has only developed herbicide-resistant or insecticide-producing crops that lock farmers into pesticide use and ensure reliance upon the companies who sell the seeds.
They do no tackle hunger or poverty. Industry promises about the ability of GM crops to tackle the world's growing social problems are myth. There is still not a single commercial GM crop with increased yield or salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other 'beneficial' traits.
In Europe, they're an economic disaster. BASF's illegally introduced Amflora GM potato was withdrawn within two years, marking the company’s exit from Europe.
They are also a profoundly unjust crop. The costs of keeping seeds, crops and foods separate from GM varieties to avoid contamination is borne by non-GM producers, placing the economic burden on the polluted, not the polluter.
To add insult to injury, many farmers who can't adequately protect their crops from GM contamination are then sued for breaching biotech companies’ patent rights.
So what does the commission see in GM crops that makes it so willing to turn a blind eye to the overwhelming public and political opposition to this outdated, unnecessary and unwanted technology?
The decision to authorise this maize comes at a time when the EU and US are in negotiations over a transatlantic trade agreement - touted as the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history.
Powerful multinationals, including agribusiness, are currently lobbying for the deal to lead to weaker safeguards, in particular on issues related to food and GM crops. This maize is a test case. Will the European commission stand up for democracy, citizens and the environment or buckle to corporate trade interests?
The public don't want GM crops, and nor do the majority of their elected politicians or governments. We don't need to take risks with untested and toxic GM crops when safer and more sustainable ways to farm are at hand.
The European commission must end its love-affair with biotech companies and their GM crops, and stop this toxic maize from reaching Europe's fields.
Mute Schimpf is food campaigner for friends of the earth Europe