By Kathleen Garnett
Ever since the first boff in a lab profited from fiddling around with the genetic make-up of plants European agriculture has been at the mercy of the big corporations. Not unlike the pests GMO products are said to repel the bio-tech industry has been swarming all over the treasure chest that is European agriculture determined to find a crack in the armour and squeeze in. Those holding patents to GMO seeds have launched a relentless campaign to get their products approved for use across the EU. For fifteen years the EU put up a good fight but it was clearly no match for the ants. As long as there was sugar in the chest they would find a way to get in and find it they did this week when the European Parliament approved new measures that have effectively opened up the treasure chest and allowed the pest to swarm in.
The crack in the armour? The bio-tech industry’s best tactic was always going to be to focus on science rather than on need or quality. All other arguments in favour of GMO products are weak. Very weak in fact. Few are convinced that GMO products add quality to food. Few believe that commercialising GMO products leads to diversification in agriculture. Few believe that GMO products give European farmers more autonomy over how they manage their farms. Few believe that GMO products offer gourmet tastes and experience. Most of all few really believe that Europe actually needs GMO foods. Europe has food surpluses and a Russian trade embargo.
Forget, for a moment, the whole debate about whether GMO food is or is not safe to eat, whether it will or will not destroy Europe’s eco-system or whether GMO food is more nutritious than mother nature’s bounty (even though the jury is still out on that) … the reality is Europe does not need GMO food. There is no gap in the market that needs plugging. Europe is not suffering from famine. It has other means to control pests, other than perhaps the bio-tech industry itself. It has enough traditional seed varieties that are capable of feeding the population. Nor is there a particularly strong yearning in Europe for GMO food.
In the fifteen or so years since the bio-tech industry has been lobbying Europe to get their products approved for use European consumers have not exactly been clamouring for GMO produce. Europe’s top chefs are hardly frothing at the mouth or singing with joy that the day is nigh when they can finally offer their sophisticated clients a GMO parfait. Supermarkets are not offering pre-booking for the first batch of GMO maize, tomatoes or soya beans to hit the shelves some time next year. This is because pretty much everyone in Europe has figured out what the EU has singularly failed to – no one in Europe particularly wants to eat GMO food, buy GMO food or serve GMO food to their family or friends. Few, other than some random scientists who insist they know more than the rest of us, wish to see European fields transformed into a form of mono-agriculture growing crops that are surplus to requirement.
Sadly, European decision makers – in the Commission, in the Council and in the European Parliament took none of these considerations into account and fell for the “sound” science argument hook, line and sinker. As though all decisions on food should be based on one variable and one variable only – science. Food science is an evolving science and has hardly proven itself worthy of the adjective “sound” in recent years. Other considerations barely factored in to their decision making process leading many to believe that the EU has become frigid with fright at the sight of a scientist in a white coat.
So star-struck by the sound science argument have EU decision-makers become they are even prepared to compromise one of the founding principles of the European Union – a level playing field for the single market. The new measures are a fudge that is going to lead to the weakening not the strengthening of the single European market – and all because the bio-tech industry got a certificate saying that GMO’s are “safe” to eat. This week marked the point of no return for European agriculture. The point when the ants brow-beat Europe’s decision-makers, prised open the chest and got in.
It would be refreshing if for once European decision-makes were to listen to what European consumers are saying rather than being brow beaten by the bio-industry. This week’s development does not auger well for the TTIP and the regulatory convergence in food safety. Expect European food and agriculture to become even more dumbed down within the coming months. As with GMO so with the TTIP. Many in Europe have made is clear that they do not want regulatory convergence of food but based on this week’s development it is unlikely anyone in Brussels is listening to ordinary consumers anyway.
Last summer’s flourishing fields may well be the last anyone remembers when European soil was truly free from commercial GMO crops – unless that it someone can develop a herbicide capable of repelling the bio-tech industry from European soil.