MINNEAPOLIS — Even as more European countries move to ban genetically modified corn produced by an American agribusiness giant, the United States and Mexico are embracing the use of this controversial agricultural technology more than ever.
A rule passed in March by the European Union allows individual countries to opt out of growing specific GM crops even if they meet with EU-wide approval. Currently at issue is MON810, a form of GM corn produced by Monsanto. While the controversial corporation insists the crop is safe, many activists fear a loss of biodiversity if the modified corn takes hold on the European continent.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, better known to anti-GMO activists as the DARK Act. Activists are concerned that the bill, which preempts state efforts to mandate GMO labelling, could enable products with GMO ingredients to avoid consumer scrutiny.
Latvia and Greece became the latest countries to opt out from the GMO late last month, following similar decisions by Scotland, France, Hungary and Germany. Reuters contrasted official attitudes toward GMO crops between the U.S. and Europe:
“GM crops are widely-grown in the Americas and Asia, but Monsanto’s pest-resistant MON810 is the only variety grown in Europe, where opposition is fierce.”
The wire service added that the opt-out bans are opposed by the U.S. government because they may imperil impending trade deals that open the door internationally to widespread GMO cultivation.
Jules Johnston, writing in August for Politico, noted that MON810 corn is already being grown in a handful of European countries, primarily Spain and Portugal, that are supportive of GMO crops. And Johnston noted that the decision to opt out of one GMO crop doesn’t affect others being considered for the European market:
“There are eight genetically modified crops currently under review for safe use in Europe, all based around the maize crop, with a blight-resistant potato showing also promising results. Dow, Monsanto and Pioneer are among the producers seeking approval.”
Hungary not only opted out of MON810 and others, but has maintained several GMO-free regions for years as a way to protect biodiversity. And, according to an article from the Christian Science Monitor in May, Hungary is considering a country-wide ban on GM crops. The Hungarian government has also proven itself to be willing to enforce these bans, burning over 2,200 acres of corn fields in May and August when they were found to contain GM corn.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Mexico seems to be yielding to pressure from the U.S. government and major corporations to embrace GMO crops. On Aug. 25, a Mexican judge overturned a ban on MON810 that prevented the licensing of fields where the crop could be tested for the Mexican market, where it is feared that this crop could endanger Mexico’s more than 60 indigenous varieties of corn.
Rick Bayless, a renowned Mexican-food chef from Chicago and advocate for the Good Food Movement, called the ban “a sad day for Mexico” and noted the potential risks to Mexico’s biodiversity are high:
“GMO corn is so seductive to farmers. It’s usually easier to grow, more disease resistant and more productive. Why bother, then, with all the hundreds of local varieties, each evolved to provide Mexico’s grain staple for a unique parcel of land, a unique climate, a unique community?”
Because corn is central to Mexican culture, he argued that Mexico’s heritage is now at risk:
“As they say in Mexico, ‘Sin maíz, no hay país,’ ‘Without corn, there is no country.’”