The economic case in favour of GMOs

EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON

Social Activists demonstrate during a World March against Monsanto in front of the headquarter Europe-Middle East-Africa of the American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology, in Morges, Switzerland, May 22, 2015.

The economic case in favour of GMOs


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This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2016

Belgium – Brussels In 2015 we considered two important proposals put forward by the European Commission on genetically modified organisms. The first one dealt with allowing Member States to ban or restrict the cultivation of crops containing GMOs on their own territory, while the second one addressed the issue of GMOs use and trade in the EU countries.

Probably no other word today raises so many doubts among European societies as the GMO. Everything connected to genetic engineering evokes a wide range of emotions; hence the topic is very delicate and controversial.

However, we can’t deny the fact that genetic engineering has been present in our lives for many years and cannot be completely abandoned. While Europeans in general accept the use of GMOs for, e.g., production of drugs and vaccines, genetically modified crops and feeds are something people are still afraid of.

Public opinion is overflowed with publications demonizing GMOs and suggesting their harmfulness. In the sea of the so-called “scientific” views, the real facts – proving that GMOs are no more harmful for humans and environment than natural organisms are – are a drop in the ocean and cannot get through to our citizens. Professional academic bodies are unable to calm down people who perceive genetic engineering as a threat to natural ecosystems.

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As Members of the European Parliament we cannot disregard opinions from both sides of this conflict. Being aware of our responsibility in constructing European legislation and its influence on health and protection of the environmental biodiversity, the laws we are trying to create cannot rely on common views but have to be based on reliable scientific data, even when it differs from opinions manifested through different political actions.

In the European Union, food, feed and crops containing GMOs have to be labelled, while the list of approved GMO products can be found on the European Commission’s website. Most of them are made of corn and soy, whereas in the field of cultivation the only approved genetically modified plant is the MON810 corn (resistant to pests – particularly the European corn borer).

The European Food Safety Authority is responsible for giving permission for every single GMO product. At the beginning of 2015 the European Parliament accepted a directive which gave Member States much more freedom in making decisions about cultivating genetically modified crops in their territory. According to the rules that came into force in April 2015 every EU country decides if modified plants pronounced safe can be grown on its land. Currently, in most of the Member States, including Poland, GMOs cultivation is not permitted.

But the European Commission wanted to go further. Last October the European Parliament worked on proposal suggesting even stricter limits in the matter of GMOs use, its introduction could end with giving Member States control not only in regard to cultivation, but also in allowing or banning GMOs trade and usage. Of course we rejected the Commission’s project since it was not only unreal, but also dangerous. Despite the fact there is no real possibility to implement such rules on European single market – as it would trigger border controls between countries approving or disapproving GMOs – it is necessary to emphasize that these restrictions would cause terrible harm to European agriculture.

Nowadays, the most important matter in the discussion is the influence of GMOs on health and the environment. In this constant dialogue we can barely hear voices referring to economic issues, yet they are essential. If we took a closer look at animal feeding and production we could observe the enormous social and economic consequences such restrictions would have. Livestock farming is the sector that would suffer most and, among others, Polish society would pay a very high price for these limitations.

Poland is the biggest poultry producer in the entire Europe. The basic ingredients of feeds used in poultry production are protein components, mostly soybean meal produced from the soya seeds. Our national production was not and is not able to handle the current demand; therefore Poland imports about 2 million tons of soybean meal per year, mostly from South America.

About 98 % of it is made of genetically modified soya, which is 20 – 30 % cheaper than the “GMO free” soya. The cost of feed alone constitutes about 60 – 70 % of the entire poultry production cost. At the moment there is no way to replace modified soya and without it Polish poultry production will not be as competitive as it is right now. Moreover, the market shortages will be filled with Asian and American poultry in an instant. Scientists agree that import will be more expensive and the imported meat will be produced from transgenic feeds. There is a reasonable concern that our domestic production will not only be ruined but also replaced with more expensive poultry, fed with GMOs forbidden in Poland. This will lead to destruction of our important agricultural sector on the one hand and on the other it will not protect consumers from eating food produced with GMOs. This is a vicious circle.

Predictions are not optimistic at all. The Commission did not tell its last word yet and, according to Polish law, genetically modified feeds can be used until the 1st of January 2017 only. After this date, unless the legislation changes, the production, trade and usage of modified feeds will be forbidden. The opinion of current Polish government is commonly known, and it differs from the EU regulations. Politicians from the Law and Justice party opt for stringent laws.

Proclaiming the “GMO-free Poland” they risk suffering the international legal consequences, but theoretically they are the voice of our society which is reluctant to GMOs. Naturally, we have to listen to vox populi, but at first we need to inform the entire population. Support gained by scaring the citizens is a political deception and using the electorate’s lack of knowledge to create law will only result in more trouble and is apparently dishonest. Meanwhile, trustworthy research approves GMO feed’s safety. Unfortunately, at the moment the experts’ opinion hasn’t got enough sway to reach the citizens.

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