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GM Crops and Socio-economics: Dalli document misses all the main points

Immediate release (3 May 2011)

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A working document prepared by EU Commissioner John Dalli [1] on the socio-economic impacts of cultivating GM crops in Europe fails to cover many important negative impacts of GM cultivation and does not meet Member States’ demand for a full review, according to analysis published today by GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth Europe. [2] The organisations are calling on Members States to reject Dalli’s document Dalli at discussions expected to take place today.

The working document was published by Director General for Health and Consumer Affairs (DG Sanco) on 11 April in response to a request from the Environment Committee in 2008. [3] The EU’s core GM crop regulations also required the Commission to prepare a report on the socio-economics of GM crop cultivation, and also allow such issues to be part of the approval process. [4]

The Commissioner’s report fails to mention any negative impacts of GM crops and instead concentrates on the potential for GM insect resistant maize to increase yield. The analysis of higher yield is based on just one province in Spain (Zaragosa) where GM maize is grown, but fails to point out that in the whole Aragon region there has been a 32% net reduction in GM hectares in the last three years [5], suggesting that farmers were not convinced of the value of planting Bt crops.

The Commissioner’s report was based on responses from the majority of EU Member States to a questionnaire from DG Sanco, despite the fact that only two GM crops can be legally grown in the EU [6], and in 2010 the area they covered was just 0.08% of arable land. [7] Respondents to the DG Sanco questionnaire were not permitted to draw on experience of growing GM crops outside the EU to gather data on the socio-economic effects.

GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth Europe identified a number a major failings and omissions in the document, including that it:

  • Lacked political context.
  • Failed to define what socio-economic impacts could be.
  • Ignored key issues raised in the responses from Member States.
  • Delivered a biased interpretation of the European and global socio-economic impacts of these crops.

Amongst the issues ignored by Commissioner Dalli were:

  • The costs of GM contamination in the whole food chain.
  • The costs of monitoring and regulation of GM contamination.
  • The impacts of increasing dependency for seeds and chemicals on handful of companies.
  • The potential loss of farmers’ rights to save their own seeds.
  • The cost increases due to the development of herbicide resistance in weeds in North and South American GM soya, maize and cotton crops.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Commissioner Dalli’s document is not useful for developing policy and practice for assessing the socio-economic impacts of GM crops. It fails to deliver what the Members States demanded and represents a massive missed opportunity to properly incorporate socio-economic factors into the GM crop approval process. Members States should reject this shoddy piece of work.

The negative comments about GM crops sent in by Members States have been ignored, as have the problems of contamination and weed resistance all too apparent outside the EU. These omissions indicate that there is in-built pro-GM bias in this document, so it provides very little useful analysis to revise policy on GM crops from a socio-economic perspective.

ENDs

Notes

[1] DG Sanco report available at http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/reports_studies/docs/socio_economic_report_GMO_en.pdf.

[2] GM Freeze/FOEE analysis available here.

[3] Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) 2912th Environment Council meeting, Brussels, 4 December 2008. See www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/envir/104509.pdf.

[4] Articles 7 and 19 of Regulation 1829/2003 foresee the inclusion of ‘other legitimate factors’ for the assessment of GM crops.

[5] Official Spanish Government statistics on the cultivation of Mon810 GM maize.

[6] Two GM crops are approved for cultivation in the EU: Monsanto’s Mon810 maize (insect resistant) and BASF’s starch altered potato (used for industrial starch production and the remaining pulp may be fed to livestock).

[7] For latest analysis of EU GM crop planting trends see www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/download/FoEE_Who_benefits_fact_sheet.pdf.