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Daily News Blog

02
Sep

Germany to Ban GE Crops; US Approves GE Potato

(Beyond Pesticides, September 2, 2015) Germany intends to “opt out” of the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops under new European Union (EU) rules regarding GE approvals, moving Germany one step forward to prohibiting GE crops. EU member states have until October 3, 2015 to inform the European Commission whether they wish to opt out of the new EU GE cultivation approvals. GE crops, which have divided Europe regarding their safety, remain a hot button issue across the continent. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted nonregulated status to the “Innate” potato, approving yet other GE crop for U.S. agriculture that has insufficient testing and no labeling.

potatoAccording to Reuters, a new EU law approved in March 2015 clarifies the process for approving new GE crops after years of previous deadlock. Now this new law gives individual EU countries more flexibility over the cultivation of GE crops and the right to opt out by prohibiting GE crops even after they have been approved by the European Commission. Previously, EU-approved GE crops had to be permitted in all EU states. In a letter obtained by Reuters, the German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt has informed German state governments of his intention to tell the EU that Germany will make use of the new “opt-out” rules to stop GE crop cultivation, even if varieties have been approved by the EU. Further, Germany will request that manufacturers of GE seed exclude Germany when applying to sell seeds in the EU. Scotland has also taken advantage of the new EU rules by also stating its intention to opt out of GE cultivation. Both Germany and Scotland have cited food, drinking water and environmental concerns, as well as consumer opposition to GE crops as the reasons for their recent decision.

Although widely grown and accepted by farmers in the U.S., GE crops have not been well received in Europe. Currently, there is one GE corn crop (MON 810) grown in the EU and eight pending applications for other GE crop varieties. According to the European Commission, MON 810 is cultivated in only five EU countries with a total coverage (in 2013) of almost 150,000 hectares (including 137,000 hectares in Spain). This contributes to less than 1.5% of the Europe’s corn cultivation. However, 58 GE commodities are authorized for food and feed.

The EU has adopted a precautionary approach when it comes to the cultivation of engineered crops. The European Commission states, “The approach chosen in the EU as regards GMOs is a precautionary approach imposing a pre-market authorisation for any GMO to be placed on the market and a post-market environmental monitoring for any authorised GMO. This approach ensures a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment.” The commission also notes, “”¦in order to provide consumers with information and freedom of choice, traceability and labelling obligations are imposed for any authorised GMO.”

Meanwhile in the U.S., new GE crop approvals continue to be made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The latest is a variety of the Russet Burbank, “Inmate” potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Company, and dubbed ”˜concealer potato’ because its genes are modified to reduce the naturally occurring browning from bruising and resist late blight.   The potato processing industry supports this new GE variety because without browning, bruised potatoes do not need to be discarded for cosmetic reasons. The potato also reduces the levels of acrylamide, a chemical produced at high temperatures (e.g., potato chips and French fries) that  some studies show is linked to cancer.

Several varieties of GE crops are allowed in the U.S., including GE corn, soybean, alfalfa, cotton and sugar beets, and the federal government has been criticized by environmental and food safety groups of not adequately analyzing the environmental risks associated with their use, including increased pesticide use. Just this year, both USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paved the way for increased 2,4-D use by approving 2,4-D tolerant corn and its companion herbicide, Enlist Duo. Since the arrival of GE crops to U.S. agriculture, pesticide use has only increased despite to industry promises of the contrary. Last month, Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., released a new study, GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health, in the New England Journal of Medicine  that outlines  the hazards associated with food residues of  elevated pesticide use in the production  of GE crops. The paper discussed  the significance of the increase in herbicide use and weed resistance in herbicide-tolerant crops. Of particular concern, according to the study, is that farmers, processors, infants, and children are most at risk, given the exposure to the herbicides used with herbicide-tolerant GE crops.

In Congress, industry interests are campaigning to derail any attempt to have GE food labelled. The bill H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, often referred to by opponents as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, which as its name implies would negate state mandatory labeling laws, has already been passed in the House. But according to a recent study by Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than 70% of Americans said they do not want GEs in their food, and 92% of consumers believe that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled.

Currently, the best way to avoid GE food is to support organic agriculture and eat organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and  research shows  that organic farmers do a better job of protecting biodiversity than their chemically-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.

For more on genetic engineering and GE crops visit the program page Genetic Engineering. Make sure to also visit the Organic page for information on organic food, gardening and what you can do.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Reuters

 

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