Saturday, March 15, 2014

The European Union's Reluctance to Embrace GMOs

One of the questions that was frequently asked by our Indiana Ag Leadership class in Europe was why the European Union (EU) has not embraced genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like farmers in the US.  The answers were very interesting.

A fact I did not know prior to our recent trip is that many EU countries do allow importation of GMO corn and soybeans from the US.  Such products are used as animal feed, even though the same products could not be sold on the shelves for direct human consumption (unless the proper labeling was attached). Thus, milk on the grocery store shelves in EU member states may have come from cows fed GMO corn.

I also learned that in spite of EU's reluctance to embrace GMOs, cultivation of GMO crops is actually allowed in a few places in the EU.

But why the resistant to GMO foods in European Union states?  The best answer I heard was from a speaker we questioned at the European Commission in Brussels.  He correctly pointed out that "the science is the same on both sides of the Atlantic."  The difference comes down to differing morals and ethics. He provided an analogy: the acceptance of RU486--the "morning after pill"--in the US generated a debate on the morality and ethics of using the pill.  The science of how the pill works was not central to the debate. GMO's lack of acceptance in many EU countries is similar. The reluctance to accept GMO food is a moral choice by consumers. US biotech companies that spend their energy trying to convince EU consumers that GMO foods are scientifically safe are missing this point.  Or so the argument goes.

Dutch hog farm.
Another point made by many speakers was that US exporters should listen to consumers in the EU rather than spend time and effort trying to convince EU member states that GMO crops are safe or better. If EU consumers want GMO-free crops, the US should sell them what they want, rather than tell EU consumers they should eat GMO containing foods.

A final point about the EU's failure to accept GMOs involved timing.  One speaker told us that the first big push by US companies to obtain acceptance of GMOs in the EU came shortly after the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom.  At the time, EU consumers became overly cautious about their food, where it came from, and what it contained.  In the US, where the foot and mouth epidemic did not occur, no similar alarmism about the contents of food on the supermarket shelves occurred.

Although US corn and soybean growers would love the EU member states to open their doors to GMO crops, one speaker said there is a silver lining for the US.  An indirect result of EU reluctance to embrace GMOs is that an entire generation of European scientists have left the EU for US biotech firms.  

As trade talks between the EU and US continue, there is no doubt we have not heard the last of this debate.

This article is part 3 of a 6 part series chronicling the Indiana Ag Leadership trip to Northern Europe and Liberia.


  1. In fact, there has been no convincing independent evidence to show that GMOs are safe to eat.

    1. How does a scientist prove something is safe to eat? I think the proof is in the millions of poultry and livestock that eat GMO corn and soybeans everyday with no ill effects.

    2. The truth is, we'll never prove GMOs are safe to the satisfaction of anti-GMO organic activists.

      Lord Walter Northbourne is one of the preeminent forefathers of the modern-day organic movement, and in 1931 he wrote the following words in defense of organic farming:
      If we waited for scientific proof of every impression before deciding to take any consequential action we might avoid a few mistakes, but we should also hardly ever decide to act at all. In practice, decisions about most things that really matter have to be taken on impressions, or on intuition, otherwise they would be far too late…. We have to live our lives in practice, and can very rarely wait for scientific verification of our hypotheses. If we did we should all soon be dead, for complete scientific verification is hardly ever possible. It is a regrettable fact that a demand for scientific proof is a weapon often used to delay the development of an idea.
      (Source: Lord Walter Northbourne, Look to the Land, 1940, p. 31.)

      If such reasoning was good enough to help launch the organic movement, then surely it’s good enough for the science of genetic engineering. Isn’t it?

  2. And a whole generation of young US scientists find it harder to get good paying jobs in biotech because they are being taken by immigrants?

  3. I cannot believe that the "immigrant" debate is being debated under this topic of discussion. Companies, institutions and even you "Hotshot" should want the BEST and BRIGHTEST working for you. That is how you remain a world leader.

    The Brit's lament on losing a generation of scientist was simple: the brightest and best educated always find a away of making a living in their area of expertise. The EU has lost an entire generation (perceived) of plant geneticists due to this self-imposed handicap.

  4. If Europeans can't grow enough food to feed themselves, and they don't like the type of food we grow here in America, I guess they should go elsewhere for their food.

    Telling us that we should listen to them rather than trying to convince them our GMO crops are perfectly safe is like the teenage daughter ordering her parents to "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" just before she asks them for a ride to the mall.

  5. As a European I was very interested to read your comments, but as to:

    "But why the resistant to GMO foods in European Union states"

    it is rather more than due to "differing morals and ethics".

    An excellent primer on the subject, uniquely encompassing Foot(Hoof) and Mouth,BSE(Mad Cow Disease) and GM Food is provided by:

    Don't Worry (It's Safe to Eat) -The True Story of GM Food,BSE and Foot and Mouth
    Andrew Rowell ISBN 1-85383-932-9

    Scientists have been voicing their concerns about GM food for years and yet many in the USA seemingly remain completely unaware of the work undertaken by Americans such as Britt Bailey and Dr Marc Lappe together with their ground breaking book Against the Grain back in 1998:

    Additionally, the evidence given to the Scottish Parliament by the eminent toxicologist Dr( now Prof) Vyvyan Howard in 2002:

    Dr Howard: "I am particularly concerned that if we cause subtle changes to principal components of the food chain, the most likely place in which they will have an impact is development. Subtle changes to the composition would not be picked up by a test of substantial equivalence—biological activities would have to be looked for. We know that, at particular times in development, the body's hormones are controlling development in low parts per trillion, which is an incredibly low concentration. For instance, we know that some chemical pollutants, which each of us has in our bodies, are able to be bioactive and cause problems at low parts per trillion. Those things are being measured now."

    Bearing in mind the foregoing the oft stated belief that Americans have eaten genetically modified food for a considerable time and that no reports have been received of any ill health effects whatsoever is questionable.. Unlike in Europe there is no labelling of GM produce within the USA hence any monitoring is impossible and indeed who is looking and for what?

    The cornerstone of GM food safety is that of 'substantial equivalence' which when applied to 2 cows, one of which has BSE, fails to find any problem whatsoever. Prof Howard covered this point back in 2002:

    "The benefits that have been claimed for GM plants are that they will grow in saline conditions and so on, and that may well be the case, but as far as health safety goes, I do not think that we are doing the right testing. Substantial equivalence is a scam. People say that a potato has vaguely the same amount of protein and starch and stuff as all other potatoes, and therefore that it is substantially equivalent, but that is not a test of anything biological. We have to examine and test, which costs money, but I do not think that we can afford to play fast and loose with this technology. We need to take great care."

    Additionally as a result of a USA lawsuit:

    Many became aware that on September 29, 2000 Judge Coleen Kollar-Kotelly determined that:

    • The FDA is not regulating GE foods at all.

    • The FDA’s politically appointed bureaucrats did not follow the advice and warnings of the agency’s scientific staff regarding GE foods but disregarded them.

    • There were “significant disagreements” among scientific experts about the safety of GE

    Turning to farmers, unlike in the USA, both conventional and organic farmers produce non-GM produce for which there is a ready domestic and international export market. They do not have to pay a technology fee for their seeds,do not need to sign restrictive Growers Agreements and all benefit from growing produce that consumers actually want.

  6. Re the FDA stance on the safety issue when GMOs were introduced into the American Human Food Chain. It is noteworthy that James Maryanski, who headed the FDA biotechnology department 1985-2006, quite openly states that it was purely a political decision and nothing whatsoever to do with Science:

    point 22.40 at:

  7. Incredible. I discovered the youtube . com movie by which a person informed exactly what paints you utilize, however We can't discover the manufacturer on the internet. Would you make sure you inform me personally generate an income will find all of them? Many thanks! I really like your projects.

    buy fut coins
    fut 14 coins


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.