- Renate Sommer, Parliament Magazine 53, January 29, 2007 (Member of the European Parliament)
"Populism and ideologically motivated obstructionism are once again dominating the GMO debate, warns Renate Sommer"
During the parliament's previous legislative period, I was the EPP-ED group's rapporteur responsible for the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO). From the beginning, it was clear that the debate on GMOs would be heavily influenced by personal conviction. Therefore, the EU institutions created an entirely new legal framework for GMOs based on scientifically substantiated facts: Directive 2001/18 on 'the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms', the regulation on traceability and labelling, and the regulation on cross-border transfer of GMOs for the implementation of the Cartagena protocol.
This is the strictest regulative framework existing anywhere in the world. After tough negotiations in the parliament, a general compromise was found and supported by all the political groups. Even the Greens were on board, a fact which they later denied, when we were in the midst of the parliament's election campaign ("yes, we supported this, but we actually did not really want it"). Is this the kind of reliable politics which our citizens expect from us? I do not think so. As feared, now the Greens are using the question of co-existence to block any kind of genetic engineering in plant cultivation.
Additionally, certain member states behave as if there had never been an agreement concerning GMOs. During the debate, however, it was the council of EU ministers which claimed that, based on scientific data, the European food safety agency (EFSA) should decide on the authorisation of GMOs. But these days, the same ministers consider EFSA all of a sudden as too scientific and not transparent enough. As before, they are trying to play the political card and thus use an alleged mistrust in EFSA as a means to delay and ultimately block GMOs across the EU.
Instead of informing citizens about GMOs in a realistic and pragmatic way, it is particularly the Greens who create and promote horror scenarios. Of course, citizens are bound to be confused and therefore hostile to the issue. In turn, many national politicians and governments respond in a disastrous way: Once again, populism and ideologically motivated obstructionism are dominating the debate. On top of that, we have an obvious power struggle within the European commission: whereas both the health and consumer protection and agriculture departments support a pragmatic and positive attitude towards GMOs, the environment department actively works against GMOs. As a consequence, the definition of thresholds for seeds has been delayed. There can be no legal security either for crop producers or for farmers.
In this controversy, the conflicting parties are going against their own interests and altogether against the interests of the EU. If we fail to use the possibilities of genetic engineering, we will soon be dependent on other countries. Those who do not participate are also excluded from the discussion and finally have to pay a high price for their absence. Brain drain is already a reality, and now we have to contemplate the competitive disadvantages for European agriculture.
The scenario of genetically-free farming in the EU is a dishonest construction: it is impossible to satisfy thew considerable appetite of Europeans for animal products without growing GM-soybeans. Even a country like Austria cannot and does not want to renounce such imports, although it baffles its citizens with the illusion of a national GMOfree zone.
Europe also faces another serious problem. It is true that we do not need GMO for food production. We do not suffer from food shortages but we do have to explain the following to the people of Europe: our insatiable appetite for energy combined with the problem of climate change will ultimately make the cultivation of GMO indispensable. Moreover, the aim of protection and regeneration of the environment through sustainable and/or alternative farming is most likely to be achieved with the use of GMOs only.
Renate Sommer is a substitute member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee, see http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/alphaOrder/view.do;jsessionid=87D5E4AB462F3CCF54FE1AF2470D4C2C.node2?id=4282&language=EN,