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The Debate over GMOs in the EU

October 12, 2010

Environmental campaigners Greenpeace and Avaaz announced last week that an online petition “freeze” genetically modified crop cultivation in the European Union had garnered more than one million signatures from across the EU.  The Lisbon Treaty had given EU citizens the right to organize petition drives that would require the European Commission to respond to the petition, stating its intentions on the issue once one million signatures had been collected.

As I warned in a previous post (“The EU Attempts New Method to Connect with Citizens” on July 14), the danger is that this provision could actually weaken support for the Commission if it fails to act on citizen petitions.  While the Commission has until the spring to act on the petition, apparently some EU officials are already wondering about the merits of the request since it was organized by two non-governmental organizations.  However, either way, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are an issue that will probably not go away any time soon in the EU.

As the New York Times reported in August, a quiet battle over GMOs is already occurring in EU member states.  In Italy, proponents of genetically modified corn have already secretly planted a few fields, while the Italian government has never granted permission for farmers to plant GMOs.  Meanwhile, other  EU member states,  such as Spain, Portugal and Germany, do allow some GMOs to be planted while other governments outright opposed.

However, as Dr. Paulette Kurzer discussed at a WEST sponsored conference last year, it is becoming increasingly hard to prevent GMOs from entering the food chain.  GMOs have become very prevalent in American agriculture, as well as in other countries, meaning more and more of the world supply of certain crops, such as soybeans, have been genetically modified.  (Click here to view Dr. Kurzer’s video and PowerPoint presentation from her talk.)  As a result, European farmers may find themselves at a disadvantage on the world market and European consumers may have to pay more for a shrinking proportion of world supplies that are GMO free.

The result may be that the European Commission will have to make a decision about GMOs, but it could not be what a small percentage of EU citizens signed up for on their petition.

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