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Europe Resigning Itself to GM Crops

Though the genetic engineering of food is a new field, the GMO debate feels as old as dirt. The same damn argument sprouts up over and over again: Advocates argue that GMO crops could eradicate hunger in a world predicted … Read More

By / January 4, 2008

Though the genetic engineering of food is a new field, the GMO debate feels as old as dirt. The same damn argument sprouts up over and over again: Advocates argue that GMO crops could eradicate hunger in a world predicted to reach a population of 9 billion by 2050; Opponents cite the threat posed to the natural diversity of the planet, in addition to a long list of other health and environmental concerns.

And the Jews? (Heated) conversations have played out on The Jew and the Carrot and Swords and Ploughshares, and in his piece last April for the Jewish Chronicle, Michael Green described the impasse faced by the Orthodox Union and other Jewish groups:

The leading American kashrut authority, the Orthodox Union, has ruled that genetic engineering “does not affect kosher status” because genetic material is “microscopic”. However, other Jewish groups such as the Teva Learning Centre (an environmental institute in the USA) dispute this and consider that GM violates the biblical prohibition against kilayim, the mixed breeding of crops and livestock.

The fact is, none of these theoretical considerations make a lick of difference. Case in point: Last month’s cover story for Business Week was titled "Future Seed: Despite the noise about organic food, Monsanto is quietly winning the battle over genetically modified crops." Monsanto is winning because the company is not interested in the theoretical, religious, philosophical, ethical, or moral implications of GMOs. They are winning because they are the big guys, with the big guns, and they are focused on one simple goal: profit.

Here are some stats from the Business Week article:

More than half the crops grown in the U.S., including nearly all the soybeans and 70% of the corn, are genetically modified. Just five years ago, China, India, and Brazil planted virtually no genetically engineered crops. Now Brazil can barely build roads fast enough to get all of its biotech soybeans from the fertile interior Mato Grosso state out to ports. Farmers in China and India, meanwhile, planted more than 17 million acres of biotech crops last year. These three countries are now three of the six largest GMO-planting nations in the world, as measured by area planted. At a time when organic food is more popular than ever, about 7% of the world’s entire farmland acreage is now planted with genetically modified crops—the ultimate anti-organic food.

 

As Hugh Grant, the Chairman, President, and CEO at Monsanto put it, "When you’re more than 1 billion acres planted, I think the conversation moves from ‘what if’ to ‘what is.’"

All too true, and now even Europe, notoriously opposed to GMOs, may be slipping from "what if" to "what is." The Daily Telegraph has a recent article about how high grain prices are forcing Europe to rethink its opposition to genetically modified crops.

Neil Parish, Conservative MEP for the South West and chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, had this to say:

"It won’t be long before Europe will change its stance. The livestock sector is under huge pressure. We will price ourselves out of business very quickly," he added.

"A year ago, your couldn’t discuss GM in the European Parliament without being shot down in flames. Now you can at least discuss it."

Mr Parish said that Europe took two years longer to approve any new GM crop than was the case in America, whether or not it was subsequently taken up by the market.

"At the moment," he said, "we are dragging our feet." The doubling of grain prices over the past year, he said, would put pressure on both the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.

And so it seems that the question is steadily shifting from whether or not to modify, to what the modified world will bring. Only time will tell if we’ll enjoy a transgenic garden of eden, or a world of devastating cross-pollination, allergic reactions, and species loss.

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