COMMENT: EU guilty of GM hypocrisy

A protester dressed as a cow joins campaigners against genetically modified crops outside Downing Street, London, Monday October 13, 2003. Campaigners from all over the country joined farmers and consumers in protest march in central London today ahead of the publication of controversial research which could decide the issue. See PA story ENVIRONMENT GM. PA Photo: Chris Young.
A protester dressed as a cow joins campaigners against genetically modified crops outside Downing Street, London, Monday October 13, 2003. Campaigners from all over the country joined farmers and consumers in protest march in central London today ahead of the publication of controversial research which could decide the issue. See PA story ENVIRONMENT GM. PA Photo: Chris Young.

The EU Commission’s decision to provide member states with a national opt out on the growing of GM crops is nothing more than a cop out: it also smacks of gross hypocrisy.

GM is one of the most emotive subjects to have made its way on to the European agenda over the past decade. It is one of those touchstone issues that manages to galvanise public opinion, one way or the other: we are either for or against the use of the technology.

The EU’s initial response to the GM challenge was extremely sensible. Brussels pulled together the most respected teams of research scientists working in the field and asked them to advise on the efficacy of the technology. The European authorities also made it clear from the outset that the matter would be dealt with on an EU-wide basis. Then came the recent decision, allowing member states – and regions thereof – to rule on the growing of new GM crop cultivars. In a heart-beat Brussels green lighted one of the most anti-communitarian decisions ever foisted on the people of Europe.

What’s more the EU has, effectively, told the world that science counts for nothing when it comes to making really important decisions. The reality remains that GM technology has not been proven, in any sense, to have a negative impact on our environment.

Here in Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark Durkan was out of the traps like a greyhound, introducing a voluntary ban on the growing of GM crops. But he had nothing but supposed public opinion to back up the rationale behind his decision.

The EU’s hypocrisy on this matter is now all too evident when one considers the other side of the GM equation. For years, the Commission in Brussels has put every conceivable obstacle in the way of certifying the use of imported GM corn and soya for use in compound animal feeds. This approach has put our intensive livestock sectors at a tremendous disadvantage, when compared with their competitors in other parts of the world. So, surely, if the EU authorities want to be consistent they should provide individual member states an opt-out when it comes to agreeing the use of GM materials for inclusion in animal rations. It would be more than interesting to hear the views of Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan on this matter.