Once-in-a-generation chance to kick GM out of our fields

4 July 2017

In the coming days and weeks, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will decide whether to close Europe's fields to genetically modified (GM) crops for good, or if more GM crops can be grown.

National governments have over the past decade failed to reach a consensus of whether to allow new GM crops to be grown or not. Most countries reject the crops, but under EU procedures they have insufficient numbers to ban them outright.

Because of this stalemate the final decision now lies with President Juncker.

Depending on the outcome, fields in Europe will either be GM-free for the foreseeable future, or the biotech industry will seize the opportunity to push for more GM crops to be grown in Europe.

Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "The European Commission has failed to get political support for GM crops since the biotech industry first tried to push them through in 1998. President Juncker promised to make decisions about GM crops more democratic, and so it is now time for the Commission to reject them once and for all. This saga is distracting us from the real debate we need on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to GM crops and move on."

Up for authorisation or rejection are two new GM maize varieties for cultivation in the European Union – Pioneer's "1507" and Syngenta's "Bt11". In addition, Juncker is deciding if the only GM maize that can currently be grown in the European Union (albeit on a limited area) will be reapproved – Monsanto's "Mon810".

The two new GM maize strains (1507 and Bt11) are tolerant to a highly toxic herbicide called glufosinate. This herbicide is known to harm the reproductive systems of humans and other animals. Under EU pesticide laws it should be phased out, but Bayer, the company that produces it, is currently attempting to keep it on the market.

GM crops are already deeply unpopular in the EU. A wide and strong GM-free movement has so far forced the banning of the cultivation of GM maize in 17 countries and 4 regions across the bloc. In October 2016, the European Parliament a voted with a large majority to reject the 3 GM maize strains mentioned above. Only six national governments support them being grown in the EU.

While these voting outcomes do not oblige Juncker to reject the GM maize strains, we are confident that if he can see that there is enough public pressure against them, he will make the right call and reject them once and for all.