Most Europeans don’t want genetically modified crops grown in the region, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make their way into European soils soon. A mix of silence from some nations and the support of a small minority might be enough to open EU farms to more GM crops. 

Generally our view of modern democracies supports the idea that minorities don’t rule when it comes to making decisions. But that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to approval of a genetically modified crop being debated in the European Union.

We don’t want them, but we won’t stop them either

Currently only one GM crop is grown within the EU, a corn variety called Monsanto 810.  Since its approval, 9 member states have banned cultivation of the corn over a variety of human health and environmental concerns.

The latest proposed GM seed, DuPont Pioneer 1507 corn, is opposed by nearly 70% of the members of the European Union, but it’s headed for approval within the European Commission anyway.

Dupont corn exhibit, Iowa, US. Pic: Shubert Ciencia

Dupont corn exhibit, Iowa, US. Pic: Shubert Ciencia

Germany is silently helping the latest GM proposal move forward

Germany is the only nation that has banned Monsanto 810 corn and yet it is not blocking the latest proposed variety of GM seed.

Because Germany is one of 4 countries that carry the most votes in the EU, German silence on the matter is significant.

Here’s how the votes break down:

A majority of 19 nations voiced opposition to Pioneer 1507: France*, Italy*, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia.

Only 5 nations voiced support: Estonia, Finland, Spain, Sweden and the UK*.

Electing silence; 4 abstaining nations: Belgium, Germany*, Portugal, and the Czech Republic

(* Germany, France, Italy and the UK have the most votes among EU member states, and thus hold the most power in deciding this proposal.)

So there was nearly as much silence on the issue as there was support, with weighty Germany’s abstention proving the most critical. A total of 50 additional votes were needed, Germany has 29 and the other abstaining countries have 12 each.

Clear minority support inside Germany

Looking closer within Germany, it appears minority opinion is also proving the most powerful on this issue.

German officials said a decisive stance was not possible because Germany’s own government is split on the matter. Let’s take a look at that split.

Government supporting members include: Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the heads of the Ministry of Research and the Ministry of Health.

Opposing parties include: the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Minister, as well as the federal government’s ruling coalition partner, the SPD.

On top of that, Der Spiegel reports 88% of Germans are against any GMO farming. And according to dpa, only 2 of Germany’s 16 federal states are supportive of GMO cultivation.

Groups question legality of approval process

Several environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, say the required environmental risk assessments have not been completed to allow approval of the engineered corn.

In a statement released just after the debate, Greenpeace says approval of the crop would be illegal.  Groups are concerned about the impact the modified crop could have on insects, wildlife and human health.

Pesticide dependency and German manufactures

GM corn 1507 is designed to be resistant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, which is classified as toxic to reproduction, and shown to cause cell death in the brain along with a variety of neurological symptoms in lab animals.

A ban on glufosinate was set in place across the EU in 2009, but it’s possible that’s changing. The herbicide is still allowed in use until 2017 and recently some EU member states have lifted the ban.

Germany’s Chemical and Pharmaceutical giant Bayer is the primary manufacturer of glufosinate ammonium used on corn variety 1507.

Out of the public’s hands

It’s up to the EU Commission to make a final determination on whether or not DuPont Pioneer 1507 corn will be approved for farms across the EU. The issue will be debated at the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety meeting on March 3.

According to Reuters, European health commissioner Tonio Borg said extensive research had shown the crop was safe and “the Commission is now legally obliged to approve it, without undue delay.”