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Scientists Warn Europe To End Its Luddite Anti-GMO Stance, Or Else…

If Europe is going to feed its many people, it’s going to need to rely on the best practices available to modern agriculture, and that notably includes genetically modified organisms. A pair of pro-GMO statements from scientific groups highlight the need for European policymakers to warm to the remarkable number of technological breakthroughs in GM research. First, as the Guardian reports, a group of high-profile scientists has penned a letter advocating in favor of GMOs:

The scientists warn that Europe may fall short of producing “world-class science” unless policymakers take a more pro-scientific stance and stop blocking GM research on “political” grounds. They say: “Plant science has arguably contributed more to the reduction of human suffering than biomedical research, yet compared with the latter it is hugely underfunded worldwide.”

At the heart of the new letter are three demands. First, that funding for fundamental and applied plant science should be maintained or, if possible, increased, to develop plants that are resilient to climate change. Second, that plant scientists must be able to perform field experiments: the authors claim that in most European countries experiments in the field with transgenic plants are blocked “not on scientific but on political grounds”. Third, that Europe must allow prompt authorisation of genetically modified plant varieties that have been found safe by competent authorities.

This letter, which included among its signatories 21 of the 30 most cited plant scientists, comes on the heels of a challenge from Britain’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRC) issued to the EU’s anti-GMO policies. The Telegraph reports:

The body, which allocates British government funding for biotech research, highlighted the growing importance of ”genome editing” technology that allows precise and targeted genetic changes without having to switch DNA between species. Such advances blurred the line between GM and non-GM breeding techniques, it was claimed.

This made fair assessments of GM applications difficult under the existing regulatory framework, which focused on the methods used to produce a new crop variety rather than a plant’s actual characteristics.

The scientists who banded together to draft the letter are concerned that policymakers are indulging the temptation to score political points and ignoring the science that undergirds the debate over genetically modified organisms—because, let’s face it, the science is firmly in the corner of those in the pro-GMO camp. The BBRC’s statement has more to do with how policymakers treat GMOs. It points to regulations over prescription drugs—where regulators consider the risks and benefits of the drug, not the process by which the drug was produced—as a potential model. In other words, ditch the hand-wringing over whether or not a drought-resistant crop was produced “naturally” (never mind the fact that most of our crops bear little resemblance to their original varieties, after centuries of selective breeding) and judge the GMO in question on its actual merit for humanity.

There are few better examples of the muddled thinking that pervades the contemporary green movement than its bizarre position against genetically modified crops. If the Chicken Little environmentalists are right, and the dystopian future of an overpopulated world with a more hostile climate is upon us, then wouldn’t it make sense to take advantage of agricultural technologies that could feed more with less, and under harsher conditions? For a group that so often looks to the scientific community for legitimacy, greens sure are quick to abandon science when it ceases to suit their own biases.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Our current crops bear about as much resemblance to their original varieties as we do to Homo Erectus. There’s nothing, animal or vegetable, living that isn’t a GMO. As note in the post, the science of GMOs is, dare I say, settled. The arguments against it are either hypothetical or outright misrepresentation. As near as I can tell the primary reason for Europe’s political objections is the competition for local producers represented by superior (and cheaper) products. Oddly, when there’s a threat like the European corn borer to a local crop or a clear commercial benefit, GM crops are suddenly OK. As of September 2014, 49 GMOs, consisting of eight GMO cottons, 28 GMO maizes, three GMO oilseed rapes, seven GMO soybeans, one GMO sugar beet, one GMO bacterial biomass, and one GMO yeast biomass have been authorised by the European Commission. Expediency, it appears, is the Mother of acceptability.

  • NECroeus

    I like to think the American Interest is a serious magazine, but wheneber they get on the topic of agriculture, they use the language of Fox News Channel. Why are these scientists so concerned about feeding the future population of Europe when all I read is that Europe’s population is dwinding. If it weren’t for all the third world people trying to immrate, some of these people – like the Italians – won’t be around in 100 years. European women don’t like to have babies. Aside from that, why so much oppobrium for people wanting to eat naturally grown food. If GMO food is so good, why do rich people choose instead to eat at expensive restaurants that serve these types of foods? Why don’t they practice what they preach?

    • Tom

      Because rich people like eating stuff that’s more expensive to maintain status. It’s dumb, but it happens.

  • Fat_Man

    “wouldn’t it make sense to take advantage of agricultural technologies
    that could feed more with less, and under harsher conditions?”

    No. They really want to see people suffer.

    They don’t want to solve problems. They want to be problems.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Count me as one liberal who does not believe GMO plants are anything to worry about—-unless the financial side-effects of patents are allowed to go out of control.

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