​‘Values, not science’: British MPs attack EU anti-GM policy, demand power to regulate

Reuters/John Sommers II
British MPs want powers to regulate genetically-modified (GM) crops, deeming current EU law “not fit for purpose.”

European regulations concerning GM plants have no scientific basis, a report by the influential Science & Technology Select Committee said.

The law unfairly assumes GM crops pose a greater risk than natural plants, the committee added.

Despite EU countries recently voting in favor of giving member states more power to regulate GM crops in their territory, the British MPs insisted individual nations need more autonomy.

Critics accused MPs of having “swallowed the pro-GM line” and referring to scientific techniques which are so new they haven’t been properly tested yet.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the committee, said “Opposition to genetically-modified crops in many European countries is based on values and politics, not science.

READ MORE: ‘GM is safe, green groups are not being honest’ – ex-EU scientist

The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more 'conventional' techniques.”

He went on to blame an EU regulatory system which allows countries to block GM crops in other member states for preventing the UK becoming a “global player in advancing agricultural technology.”

Organic food organization the Soil Association slammed the committee for ignoring the British public’s concerns about GM.

The Select Committee has swallowed the pro-GM campaign’s line that the British public are becoming less concerned about GM food,” Soil Association Policy Director Peter Melchett said.

However, “the latest in [a] series of polls found that public concern about GM is increasing, and it is at its highest level since the [Food Standard’s Agency] polling began.”

He went on to accuse the committee of prematurely jumping on pro-GM evidence, before the crops had been properly tested.

Melchett cited the example of Golden Rice, a GM crop in the Philippines intended to deliver higher vitamin A content.

READ MORE: Monsanto monarch massacre: 970 million butterflies killed since 1990

MPs neglected to mention that the crop is years away from commercial use because in the most recent trial its average yield was lower than conventional varieties already preferred by farmers, he said.

The committee also failed to acknowledge the vitamin A additive has not yet been tested to see if it’s effective, or even safe.

He also claimed MPs ignored research by the UK government which found “GM crops would have a negative impact on farmland, birds, wildflowers and other wildlife.”

Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, took issue with idea policies “based on values” are inherently bad.

Surely the values of a nation lie at the very heart of how it chooses to take care of its countryside and feed its people?” she said.

GM agriculture has caused controversy worldwide, with opponents citing environmental and health concerns.

Critics point to a report published earlier this month by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which found 970 million monarch butterflies – 90 percent of the total population – have vanished across the United States since 1990.

READ MORE: Rising suicide rate for Indian farmers blamed on GMO seeds

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the US-based Center for Food Safety, laid the blame on agro-giant Monsanto’s herbicide, which is used on GM crops.

This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto's Roundup Ready crop system,” he said.

Monsanto, a global leader in GM agriculture, has also faced criticism for the rising rate of suicides among Indian farmers.

Documentary filmmaker Alakananda Nag, who interviewed dozens of families affected by the suicides, linked the rise to the use of GM seeds.

Sheldon Krimsky of the Council for Responsible Genetics said Indian farmers will often only receive loans if they buy GM seeds.

However, “GM crops have not done as well in all regions of India ... [That has led to] much greater indebtedness with the GM crops that did not perform as well.

Some 17,639 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009 alone. Over the past 20 years, more than 290,000 farmers have taken their own lives.