Food Security Costs

How the EU implicitly encourages rejection of GM ag

As a researcher, I have dedicated considerable time to the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops. It was actually funding for this issue that allowed me to start my graduate work in 1999.

When I began my research, the European Union (EU) without concerns for international trade managed the comingling of GM with non-GM crops. This system lasted until 2003 when two events put an end to this working system. In 2003, the EU established the European Food Safety Authority and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety came into effect.

If trace amounts of GM crops are detected in imports, the EU slams the border shut on those commodity imports. The long-term result is that the trade of these commodities never returns to original levels. The EU has detected trace amounts of Canadian approved GM flax and USA approved GM corn, well below 1%, which has disrupted trade in both products.

Cost of rejection

In 2010, the EU rejected all Canadian flax shipments for 4 months. This minute detection of GM flaxseed led to financial losses of $30 million to Canadian farmers and a further 40 million euros to flax processors in the EU.

The rejection of Canadian flax led to 600 EU jobs loses. In the USA, the EU’s rejection of corn shipments with the presence of a corn variety not approved in the EU, caused corn feed exports to fall by 30-40% between 2006 and 2009.

While millions of dollars in trade opportunities and hundreds of job have been lost, the biggest disappointment is the message the EU is sending to developing countries considering adopting GM crops. Having substantially invested infrastructure and resources devoted to exporting non-GM shipments to the EU, Canada and the USA still failed to meet EU standards. Developing countries don’t have anywhere near comparable levels of infrastructure, resources or monitoring capacity in their commodity export systems to avoid the same losses as Canada or the USA. This leaves them with but one choice, adopt a GM crop and lose the EU export market.

Is there a choice?

What choice do developing countries have if EU policy rejects trace amount of GM crops? How can they adopt innovative technologies that could improve important local varieties if it means losing their opportunity to trade? The power the EU has over developing country trade means they dictate their preferred agricultural policy rather than focusing on increasing food security.

If the EU chooses to reject GM crops, that’s their right to decide. As a wealthy region, the EU can afford to import foods from the world over. However, it is unethical for the EU to force developing countries to have to reject agricultural innovations that could improve food security. The time is now for the EU to cease and desist from its zero tolerance for unapproved GM comingling. It is inhuman to force EU values onto developing countries, thereby forcing them to endure continuing food insecurity, famine, starvation and death simply because wealthy, well-fed Europeans can afford to turn their noses up to GM food products. I guess they can always eat cake.

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