Is it time for Europe to embrace genetically modified food to compete with cheap GM food imported from outside the EU or remain in the past with quaint ideals of what is natural to placate the anti-GM political lobby?
It’s over twenty years since the first genetically modified organism (GMO) was released for commercial use. Calgene (now part of the Monsanto Company) released the Flavr Savr “flavor saver” genetically modified tomato after two years of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety tests.
Genetically Modified Food 20 Years of Research
The Flavr Savr tomato plant has a relatively minor genetic modification which slows ripening without impacting color or taste resulting in a tomato with a longer shelf life. Although the first GM crop was a commercial flop it was the first step to the US dominating the genetically modified food market. Whilst in Europe anti-GM food campaigners lobbied for and received economically damaging food health checks to slow progress.
Despite 20+ years of GM research indicating GM foods are as safe as their non-modified counterparts, the European Union under intense political pressure from the anti-GM lobby had all but placed a moratorium on the testing of GM foods, whilst the US steams ahead with GM research.
Politics vs Science
In October 2014, twenty-one of Europe’s leading plant scientists wrote an open letter (http://www.umu.se/digitalAssets/151/151955_open-letter-to-decision-makers-in-europe.pdf also posted as a comment below) urging Europe to allow plant scientists to perform field experiments on genetically modified organisms and to allow faster authorization of genetically modified plant varieties that have met the strict EFSA safety rules to meet Europe’s Horizon 2020 goals of removing obstacles to scientific innovation.
27 of the “30 most cited authors in plant science” in Europe (http://www.labtimes.org/labtimes/ranking/2013_04/index2.lasso) hold at present a position at a publicly funded research organization in Europe, and 21 out of the 27 have signed this letter. We work on various aspects of plant science, for example systematics, physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, ecophysiology, ecology, pathology, biodiversity and effects of climate change. It is possible to perform good curiosity-driven plant science in Europe and we acknowledge our support from various funding bodies, in many respects plant science in Europe is doing well.
With the European Union on the verge of another economic downward spiral, could GM crops be part of the long term economic revival of Europe’s faltering economy or will the open letter by some of the most respected European plant scientist fall on deaf political ears?