(Beyond Pesticides, November 2, 2007) According to figures released this week, genetically modified crops now cover 110,007 hectares of arable land across 7 European Union member states, an increase of more than 77 percent compared to last year, despite concerns from scientists and environmentalists. The figures show that the largest gains came from France, which quadrupled its cultivation, while Spain, the EUâ€™s largest GM cultivator, saw increases of around 40 percent. Cultivation of GM crops also doubled in the Czech Republic and Germany. EuropaBio, the EU association for bioindustries, released the figures in advance of the Environmental Council meeting, which took place on October 30 to discuss proposals on GMO cultivation and import bans. â€śWe are delighted to see that the uptake of biotech crops is growing despite the fact that only one product is available on the European market,â€ť said Johan Vanhemelrijck, Secretary General of EuropaBio. He continued, â€śThe cultivation of biotech plants is legally possible in all EU countries and we strongly urge policy makers in Europe to give all farmers the right to choose the products which they think are best to protect their crops and increase their competitiveness.â€ť
To date, the only type of GM crop grown in the EU is Bt maize (corn). Bt maize contains a gene that allows the maize to defend itself against the European corn borer. The European corn borer is an insect present primarily in southern and middle Europe, and is steadily making its way north.
However, these statistics come a week after French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced a moratorium on GM crops. Speaking at Le Grenelle, a summit for French environmental policy, Mr. Sarkozy said, â€śAs a matter of precaution, I would like the commercial culture of GM pesticides to be suspended pending expert opinions. The truth is that we have doubts about the current use of GM pesticides, the truth is that we have doubts about the control of distribution, the truth is that we have doubts about the health and environmental benefits of GM crops.â€ť
Along with placing a temporary freeze on the planting of genetically modified crops in France, the President proposed cutting pesticide use by half within a decade and, that all cafeterias in schools and public buildings be required to offer organic food once a week.
President Sarkozyâ€™s concerns echo those of many within the scientific community. A recent study by researchers at Indiana University suggests that Bt corn can pose unforeseen risks to aquatic ecosystems by harming non-target aquatic insects and disrupting the connected food web (see Daily News Blog). Other concerns about GM crops include increased insect resistance, pollen drift and contamination on non-modified crops, harm to human health and the impact on farmers. For more information on GM crops, please visit Beyond Pesticides GMO page.