Why the EU's GMO Vote Matters to Farmers

October 20, 2015 05:00 AM

A controversial proposal scheduled for an Oct. 26 vote in the European Union (EU) Parliament would allow EU member countries to opt out of the use of imported, genetically modified (GM) crops. A negative result could have big consequences for U.S. soybean farmers, in particular.

The EU is the second-largest market for U.S. soybean exports, most of which are grown from GM seed. U.S. farmers’ market share of EU’s corn imports, meanwhile, is relatively small, with Europe growing much of its own.

Maryland-based consultant David Green of Greenhouse Communications tracks EU market access for several U.S. agriculture groups, particularly in the soy industry. Green, a former farmer in his native Ireland, recently discussed with AgWeb what the provision could mean for U.S. soybean farmers.

AgWeb: What’s the background of the EU’s opt-out proposal?

Green: The EU Agriculture Commission came out with a proposal in April to allow members to opt out of the use of imported biotech crops, even though these crops were approved at the EU level following a rigorous scientific assessment. Under the EU’s complicated approval process, the commission makes the final decision on authorization. So, to get member states to agree on allowing imports of biotech crops, they propose allowing members to restrict or ban their use.

AgWeb: Why should U.S. farmers care?

Green: Every member of the EU imports biotech soybeans in some shape or form. After China, Europe is the U.S.’s No. 2 soybean market. Its animal feed industry depends on it. Even the most anti-GMO EU member states consume 60 kg of soy per person, mainly through meat fed GM rations.

AgWeb: What can U.S. farmers do?

Green: Farmers have a great story to tell on biotech as family farmers who care for the environment and look after the land, since that is where they make their livelihood. It’s important for farmers to share their real-life experience of the benefits of biotech.

How concerned are you about this situation? Let us know in the comments.

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Spell Check

Kenn Zimmerman
Craigville, IN
10/20/2015 07:50 AM

  How dare those European regulators/politicians pay more attention to the desires of their constituents than the $$$$$ from corporate genetics!!! Shameful!

Andrew Greenwell
Woodland, CA
10/20/2015 11:13 AM

  Its not solely about the money, U.S. farmers grow genetically modified crops because they significantly reduce inputs such as labor and drive down one of the largest environmental cost erosion (a river can be cleaned in a decade, it takes around 1000 years to make one inch of top soil). Outside of the scientifically proven benefits of G.M. crops, it is possible that the public may not be fully aware of the net environmental benefits and food safety G.M. beans/grains and should try put a little more trust in those that devote our live to producing quality food and stewarding the environment.

Steve Deibele
Kiel, WI
10/21/2015 08:07 AM

  It is appropriate to reject products based on corporate behavior, health concerns, environmental concerns, social justice issues, economic issues, etc. I reject GMO crops based on all of the above concerns. Furthermore, from an environmental perspective, it would be far better to focus on increasing and integrating perennials into both human foods and livestock feeds. The perennials eliminate or drastically reduce tillage (& erosion), and overall pesticide use. Many or most or all (?) perennials show vastly improved nutrient densities than the grains. The health of both livestock and humans is a greatly compromised by the nutritionally-poor feeds/foods that are actually consumed. The western world already over-produces calories, but these calories are often "empty" or nutrient-deficient. For health - immune system optimization - we need to focus on QUALITY of our calories ... on the nutrients available per calorie consumed. With the growing human population, we as a species should be focusing "high quality calories" produced per acre per year. Corn, for example, now produces a massive amount of calories per acre. But these are very poor calories nutritionally-speaking. Research in the late 1980s began to show how fatty acids, CLAs, and other nutrient components impact heart health, cancer protection, etc. Corn, and grains in general, are very poor for long-term health for both people and livestock. The American livestock industry is built upon a foundations of grains ... corn and soy in particular. The nutrient profiles in the meats, the milk, the milk products, and the eggs are now known to be inferior when the livestock feeds are based on grains. Forage, pastures, natural animal environments ... those can produce MUCH healthier and much higher quality livestock products. --> better-tasting human foods. How we produce foods matters. The health, environmental, social and economic issues of agriculture are certainly complex.