In the US, advocates of better labeling of, or even the banning of, genetically modified foods have often referenced large-scale bans in the European Union as being evidence that their concerns are justified. But although many European countries nations have complete or partial bans on the growing of GM crops—including Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, and Switzerland—the issue has remained as contentious on the continent as it has on American soil.
Now, a new legislative move by the EU will make it more difficult for individual European nations to opt out of the GM food industry and exclude products made with GMOs from their store shelves.
Yesterday, the European Parliament shot down a draft law that would have permitted member states of the EU to domestically ban the use of EU-approved genetically modified food and animal feed on their soil. Many European citizens are opposed to the integration of products using genetically modified crops are organisms due to concerns about their potential health effects and a general sense of skepticism about biotechnology.
While a majority of nations within the EU have banned the growing of GM crops in their respective territories, this new ruling primarily concerns the importation and use of GMO animal feed, of which livestock producers have generally remained in support.
European governments will now no longer have the autonomy to place bans on these products, opening up the group of some 28 different countries to the industry at large. The law was originally drafted in April, but is rooted in more than four years of deliberation about the need for, and potential risks of, embracing or outlawing GM foods. The EU member states' ability to decide whether or not they want to grow GM crops is upheld. The commission also said that it would ensure that discussions were kept open about the rights of individual nations when it comes to the massive GMO debate.
However, Italian environment committee chair Giovanni La Via argued, "Member states should shoulder their responsibilities and take a decision together at EU level, instead of introducing national bans."
Green Party food safety spokesperson Bart Sates saw it differently: "We cannot persist with the current situation by which authorizations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU governments and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens."
One of the biggest concerns: upholding free trade. Opponents of the piece of legislation argued that it could severely detriment the EU's economy on a whole, and the US government expressed concern that individual nations would be disregarding scientific proof of GM foods' safety while also disrupting transcontinental free-trade agreements. Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace agreed that the legislature was faulty because any individual nation's ban of these products would have been overwritten by EU's free-market mandates.
In August, Scotland became the most recent nation to ban the cultivation of GM crops on its soil, a move that was praised by environmental activists and condemned by agricultural groups. At the time, Huw Jones, professor of molecular genetics at agricultural science group Rothamsted Research, told the BBC that the move marked a "sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland, reiterating that EU-approved GMOs were "safe for humans, animals and the environment".
European citizens continue to express doubt and concern about GM products, but are at odds with the continent's agricultural sector, which sees GM feed as a more efficient and cost-effective means of raising animals, particularly on a large scale. In a statement, Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis called the conundrum a "very paradoxical situation."
For the time being, only one GM crop is currently grown in the EU: a variety of Monsanto corn known as MON 810.