With the Commission proposal on the use of new GM techniques in agriculture, Frans Timmermans is shooting himself in the foot, writes Anja Hazekamp MEP
EXCERPT: "Any authorisation of GM food should always be accompanied by risk assessments and a comprehensive evaluation of traceability and labelling options. The plans presented by Timmermans this week blatantly contradict this. The bill is not only a deathblow to sustainable agriculture but also an affront to democracy." – Anja Hazekamp MEP
Allowing genetically engineered crops is the deathblow to sustainable agriculture
Anja Hazekamp MEP
NRC, 6 July 2023
[English translation of Dutch original provided with help of Deepl Translate]
* With the proposal on the use of new genetic techniques in agriculture, Frans Timmermans is shooting himself in the foot, writes Anja Hazekamp
Eurocommissioner Frans Timmermans is in Brussels directing the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies: two key pillars of the European Commission's Green Deal. In a Europe and a world that is warming and drying out faster and faster, with geopolitical tensions flaring up, and species diversity and ecosystem resilience in decline, these plans offer much-needed solutions. They should ensure that we can produce sufficient, safe and healthy food not only now, but also in 2050, and that farmers can earn a good living.
Key objectives of the Green Deal are to use less chemical pesticides, protect and restore damaged nature, give animals a better life, and distribute profits in the food chain more fairly in favour of farmers. Who could possibly be against that?
The answer is simple: The big earners in agribusiness and the producers of those chemical pesticides. These multinationals, with Bayer leading the way, have used their millions in lobbying budgets to block European sustainability plans from the very first moment.
Prominent on their wish list is also the deregulation of genetic engineering in agriculture. After all, there is a lot of money to be made with genetically engineered crops. The developers of GM crops are invariably the same as the producers of agricultural poisons. Very clever, because it allows them to keep their shareholders happy, should their profits from agricultural poisons drop because of all those "pesky" sustainability requirements.
To market their tinkered-with food, we see the same promises emerging as in the 1970s and 1980s: genetic engineering is going to save the world, eradicate hunger and make the use of agricultural poisons unnecessary. The reality of the first-generation genetic engineering varieties back then turned out to be just the opposite. They led to monocultures, large-scale deforestation of the Amazon, exponential growth in the use of the highly toxic and probably carcinogenic RoundUp, billion-dollar profits for Monsanto and desperate farmers.
According to the industry, none of this applies to "new" types of genetic engineering crops. A claim that is nowhere substantiated, neither scientifically nor in practice. Indeed, research shows that "new" gene techniques like CRISPR/Cas are also used for more of the same and do not produce any crop that adds value to sustainable agriculture.
Yet this week, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal to allow the cultivation and sale of GM food Europe-wide - without risk assessment and, in many cases, without warning on the food label.
Timmermans did allow himself to be very easily led by Bayer's toxic cart. Opposition to the Nature Restoration Act in recent months has left him beaten numb. In a desperate attempt to prevent the law to reduce agricultural toxins from also meeting too much resistance, Timmermans now puts the political wishes of Bayer and Co. on the table. A proposal that entails complete deregulation for many GM crops: No risk assessment, no traceability, and no more labelling for GM foods in which less than 20 changes have been made to the DNA. As if this haphazard number says anything about the sustainability or safety of the crop. Even Plantum, the advocate of major Dutch breeders and one of the advocates of deregulation, questions this.
The organic farming and food sectors, which do not want to and are not allowed to use genetic engineering, are thus being sacrificed. Without traceability and labelling, they can no longer promise their customers that they work GM-free; after all, this can no longer be verified and therefore cannot be guaranteed. Although the new bill does require the organic sector to remain GM-free, there is no mention of how this could be done.
This makes it totally unclear how this genetic engineering proposal relates to the important EU action plan to use at least 25 per cent of farmland for organic farming by 2030. Timmermans is shooting himself in the foot, and the question is whether he himself realises this.
Threat to conventional farmers
The organic sector has been hearing the buzz for some time and has now united in a protest. But this genetic engineering bill also threatens conventional farmers and breeders. Unlike classically bred plants and animals, which are protected from patenting, the results of genetic engineering are patentable.
Former CDA leaders like Verburg, Bleker and Verhagen recognised years ago that patenting agricultural crops encourages monopolisation, pushes conventional breeders out of the market and is thus a very big threat to food security. The European Parliament and the [Netherlands] Lower House also recently stressed that there should be no patents on our fields and on our plates. Yet the European Commission does not devote a single word to the danger of food monopolisation as a result of deregulating genetic engineering.
In my report on the Farm-to-Fork strategy that the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted in 2021, the Parliament made it clear that legislation on the newer genetic engineering techniques must meet important conditions. We stressed the importance of the precautionary principle and demanded transparency and freedom of choice for farmers, processors and consumers.
It also stressed that any authorisation of GM food should always be accompanied by risk assessments and a comprehensive evaluation of traceability and labelling options. The plans presented by Timmermans this week blatantly contradict this. The bill is not only a deathblow to sustainable agriculture but also an affront to democracy.