The first in a series of debates on the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops takes place in Brussels today (17 March), as the European Commission kicks off its latest attempt encourage their cultivation. The Commission said the discussions will be used to inform future policy making, prompting a fresh wave of lobbying from pressure groups seeking to influence the debate.
The debate on GM risk assessment and management, chaired by John Dalli, the Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, brings together experts, stakeholders, members of the European Parliament and representatives of non-governmental organisations to discuss the issue of independence of the risk assessment bodies, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and national risk assessment bodies; applications for GM authorisations and, in particular, the reliability and transparency of studies carried out to support applications; the Commission’s draft regulation on implementing rules for GM food; and the environmental risk assessment of GM plants.
The event follows on from a meeting of Environment Ministers held on Monday (14 March) at which they discussed whether to allow member states to decide whether or not to allow GM crops to be grown in their countries, as proposed by the European Commission in July last year.
Dalli said the debate today is intended to clarify and build a better understanding of the issues involved, adding, “My intention is to take the outcome of today’s meeting into consideration towards better, more informed, decision-making on genetically modified organisms.”
In advance of the debate, the industry body EuropaBio drew attention to a literature review1 on the impacts of GM crops on biodiversity, published this month which concludes that growing GM crops can help reduce the impact of agriculture.
The article describes research showing GM crops can help farmers increase their yields, leaving more land for biodiversity to thrive. They also help to decrease tillage, preserving soil and moisture. The article also points to mounting evidence showing GM crops do not have significant adverse effects on soil organisms, herbivores, and bees. In addition, GM crops can help suppress pests on neighbouring farms where conventional crops are grown, according to the review.
Meanwhile, the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth published a report saying the costs of segregating GM and conventional crops are much higher than originally thought, and could push up food prices2.
Mute Schimpf food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said the true environmental and economic costs of GM crops must be taken into account when their cultivation. “The biotech industry must be held accountable for damage done through cross contamination – the costs must not be unfairly pushed onto farmers, consumers and taxpayers.”
1 “Impacts of GM crops on biodiversity,” Janet E. Carpenter, was published in the journal, GM Crops this month.
2 ‘The socio-economic effects of GMOs - Hidden costs for the food chain’