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EU Nations Set to Ban GMOs as They Please

Dec 29, 2014 02:28 PM EST

If you're a consumer who takes a strong stance against genetically modified (GM) crops, or GMOs, you may want to catch the next plane to Europe. That's because the European Union is only a step away from allowing each of its individual nations to reach their own decisions on what crops and practices to ban, regardless of what the scientific community has to say.

GMOs have been a hot topic of debate for as long as citizens have known about them. That's because the idea of a GMO is pretty frightening. The image of scientists in labs tinkering with our food in unnatural ways, and then asking us to put the product of their experimentation into our bodies is a bit unsettling.

However, it's also important to point out that citizens in the United States have been consuming eight main GM crops for years, with the leading cash crops (corn and soy) also seeing countless modifications in other parts of the world, including the European Union (EU). The US FDA even recently introduced a new GM crop - a genetically edited potato crop that boasts a reportedly lower cancer risk, when compared to breeding kit and organic counterparts.

Amazingly, experts have long claimed that control of GM crops is strongest in the United States and United Kingdom, with EU control more varied and loose.

That's why EU officials have decided that it may be best to leave things up to the discrepancy of individual nations. If proposed amendments to a 2001 EU directive are passed, as they are expected to following a vote in two weeks, individual nations can place their own bans on various GM crops, even if EU officials have already cleared them for distribution and sale.

"The right for European states to legally ban genetically modified crops has taken a major step forward, without the interference of big companies with vested interests," Mute Schimpf, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, happily announced in a recent statement. "Parliamentarians sided with the majority of European citizens who are concerned about GM crops and voted for better EU laws to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming."

More freedom of choice always sounds like a good thing, but backers of GMOs are concerned that the amendments will lead to rash decisions that can adversely impact the agricultural market. (Scroll to read on...)

Countries that want to ban GM crops will no longer be obliged to provide scientific evidence to the European Food Safety Authority that the crops will damage the environment or human health. Instead, they can ban the growth and distribution of crops based on mere rumor or even to avoid public demonstration - a common action taken by organic movements.

"Our industry has a serious problem with arbitrary bans on safe products," Beat Spaeth, agriculture spokesman for EuropaBio, recently told New Scientist.

Spaeth explained that the approval process for potentially beneficial products - much like the aforementioned US potato - is long and hard, with countless studies and trials before the product can hit the market. It would understandably be frustrating if a crop that just made it through that gauntlet was suddenly banned for an arbitrary and unscientific reason.

And while Spaeth's opinion is likely a biased one, it reflects the views of independent and respected experts like Neil deGrasse Tyson and even David Just, who claim that citizens should be educated more about GMOs before they influence any decision-making concerning the delicate issue.

"Even using long scientific-sounding words make [GM crops] sound like it's been grown in a test tube, and people get scared of it," Just, the co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, recently said when meeting with the US subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture.

It was argued that if fear is allowed to rule GM decision making, the industry doest stand a chance.

Still, it remains unclear what will truly drive each nation's decision, even if the EU amendments are passed. Currently, the EU has cleared a whopping 50 GM crop varieties for import, while two GMOs can be locally grown.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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