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Friday, 22 March 2013

GMOs – implications for trade and developing countries

GM crops are grown by more than 17 million farmers around the world, the majority of them smallholder farmers in developing countries: GMs are cultivated in 20 developing countries and 8 industrial countries worldwide. Soya and maize are the most planted GM crops around the globe, followed by cotton and oilseed rape.
US, Brazil, Argentina, China, Canada, and India count among the countries who have intensively adopted GM crops.
In Europe, there are two GM crops allowed for cultivation: maize (approved in 1998), and potatoes (approved in 2010). However, as of May 2011, 40 GM crops were approved for imports and processing and/or food and feed in the EU. Still, 19 products have already the positive vote of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but are still awaiting to be official allowed by the European Commission.
The difference of pace for import approvals between the EU and exporting countries causes trade problems - while the EU still takes close to 3.7 years on average for an import approval, approvals in Brazil currently take just over 2 years, and the U.S. is aiming for 1.5 years. However, the EU has no intention to speed up the system in the near future, Eric Poudelet, Director Safety of the Food chain, DG SANCO, European Commission declared in an event on the topic at the beginning of the month in Brussels.

In Africa, however only three countries allow the cultivation of GM crops, namely South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt. Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio’s Secretary General believes that EU has a responsibility towards developing goal : “Our go-slow approach in the EU is hampering adoption of GM crops that could protect yields and help increase farmers’ income”. She argues that the European legislation is taken by developing countries as an example, and that the kind of precautionary principle that the EU has is not particularly inspiring for these countries. They would be thus deterred to take advantage of the benefits GM crops could bring in unfavorable  conditions.
The advocates of GM crops argue that GM crops have several advantages, such as: higher yields, improve weed control, and lower levels of pesticide needed. It is assumed that crops as the golden rice in Africa can fight beta-carotene deficiencies.
It is also claimed that GM crops could be part of the answer for the challenge of covering a 70% increase in food production, required to meet the growth of world population to 9 billion by 2050.
Scientists agree that GM have to be integrated in order to respond to the specific needs of each area, Sir Brian Heap, President of the European Academies Science Advisory Council believes.

GM crops are developed by a process of genetic modification by which selected individual genes are inserted from one organism into another to enhance desirable characteristics (‘traits’) or to suppress undesirable ones.
GM crops are generally seen as controversial, due to the questions about the risks  posed to the environment through gene flows, and to human health through ingestion of toxic substances. In 2000 and 2010, the European Commission released two reports that cover 25 years of research on GM crops or food on human health or the environment: “A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-2010)” and “EC-Sponsored research on safety the genetically modified organisms (1985-2000).” Conclusion were that there are no threats or dangers of approved to GM crops.

Worldwide there are more than 300 approved GM products; the GM crops represent 10% of total crops worldwide.

Source: CTA Brussels, EuropaBio, UNDP.