The debate over GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is not only going on in the United States. It’s also happening in countries all around the world.
Maybe you have read articles on the Internet about the countries where GMOs are banned, and countries that use GMOs in their seeds or food production. Maybe you’ve wondered why, if GMOs are so bad, every country doesn’t ban them.
Like everything else surrounding the GMO debate, there are no simple answers. Most countries or parts of them have moved between banning some GMOs for a specified time, letting some GMOs in after much research, and limiting others altogether. The research is changing and is challenging to keep up with.
Countries Where GMOs are Banned
In March of 2015, a European Commission rule was passed that gave countries in the European Union the option to opt-out of growing GM crops. There are 19 countries in Europe that opted out, prohibiting the biotech companies from selling GMO seed in their territories. These countries include Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Poland, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Belgium, among others.
Also banning GMOs are Algeria and Madagascar in Africa; Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia in Asia; and Belize, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela in the Americas. Mendocino, Trinity and Marin counties in California are the only counties in the US that have successfully banned GM crops.
Most of the Australian states that had a ban on GM crops have lifted it. Some countries that have not banned GMOs have restrictions on them, or have a temporary ban until more research is done.
One such country is Russia, who in 2013 imposed a 10-year moratorium on GMOs so more experiments, tests and new methods of research could be developed. The Vice President of the National Association for Genetic Safety, Irina Ermakova, said, “Biotechnologies certainly should be developed but GMOs should be stopped. (We) should stop it from spreading.”
Does a GMO ban really mean a ban?
If a country bans GMOs, does that really mean it’s banned? Not necessarily. Here’s why it gets confusing:
Just last year the majority of European Union governments voted against authorizing two new strains of GMO maize. DuPont Pioneer’s 1507 and Syngenta’s Bt11 are resistant to Bayer’s glufosinate herbicide and produce their own pesticide to kill insects. The EU governments also voted against renewing the license for Monsanto’s MON810, the only GMO crop currently grown in the EU.
Although the majority opposed all three crops, “the votes for all of these did not decisively block their entry to the EU because the opposition did not represent a ‘qualified majority.’” A qualified majority means that 16 countries representing at least 65 percent of the European population have voted in favor or against it.
Ultimately the president of the EU will make the decision, but even if it gets approved, countries can use the opt-out to prevent the GMOs from being grown in their territory.
While many EU countries may not grow GMO crops for human consumption, some grow it or import it for their animals. Dr. Robert Paarlberg, PhD, a researcher on food and agricultural policy at Wellesley College, said that the EU as a whole imports considerable GMO soy for animal feed, and some countries grow small amounts of GMO corn for their animals. Various types of GMO cotton, maize, rapeseed and sugar beets are legal to import. He said very few countries explicitly ban GMOs; instead, governments have not yet approved the domestic cultivation of GMO crops.
Dr. Paarlberg also states the EU is different from the US because food label rules are different. They require mandatory labeling of food products that have even a small trace of GMOs. To avoid needing a label, food companies in Europe have taken out all GMO ingredients, limiting GMO foods for direct human consumption from the market. Europeans continue to use GMO corn and soy for feed because label rules for such products don’t require they disclosure it.
See why there are no easy yes or no answers?
Why are GMOs banned?
Are countries banning GMOs because of science or public pressure?
Much has been written about the safety of GMOs in food, but is an example:
A study published in Environmental Sciences Europe journal found severe liver and kidney damage, hormonal disturbances and large cancerous tumors in rats that were fed GM maize in conjunction with low levels of Roundup. Other studies have linked GMO feed to enlarged uteri and severe stomach inflammation in pigs. These and other studies have concluded that more research is needed before GMO foods can be accepted as safe.
The Genetic Literary Project challenges that independent science organizations in every nation have made pubic statements that GM products are safe. The nations that are banning the importing or cultivation of GMO products are not doing so because of science, but instead because of wanting to avoid controversy. The website suggests that public uneasiness, trade protectionism, pressure from advocates and protecting a country’s image are reasons behind the bans.
So what do you think? Should countries ban GMOs from food cultivation? What are the motivations of the countries that ban GMOs? Is it okay for countries that have banned GMOs to still give GMO feed to the animals their citizens are consuming? And then not disclose that in their labels? Let’s start talking!