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February 19, 2012

EU anti-GMOs stance will reduce competitiveness of its farmers

While the latest ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) study on global trends in regards to gene-modified crops shows more acceptance and higher adoption, the opposition to them remains stiff in Europe. Whereas in many parts of the world the public attitude outside the agriculture sector is generally indifference or ‘I don’t know’ to GM crops, in much of Europe there is active consumer resistance to them.

This has had a knock on effect in Africa, for which the EU remains the biggest export market for its agricultural commodities. But GM crops for local consumption are an increasingly attractive option for more African countries, and the growth of alternative, non-EU export markets may further reduce the African wariness about adopting Gm crops.

A French research crop has said the European resistance to higher-yielding and pest-resistant GM crops may increasingly put the region’s farmers at a disadvantage compared to farmers growing similar GM crops in other parts of the world.

"It's clear that in continents where they have access to these GMO techniques, they will go faster than in Europe," says Fabien Lagarde, director at French oilseeds technical institute Cetiom.

The European Commission has approved one GM grain for cultivation, Monsanto’s insect-resistant MON810 maize. But several EU governments have moved to ban it because of their citizens’ fierce opposition.

A French farm group is quoted as showing clear yield benefits of the GM maize strain over conventional varieties. On 22,000 hectares on which it was planted, it prevented an average loss in yields from pests of 0.5 tonnes per hectare, an advantage worth about 100 euros per hectare, it was found. This included the additional cost of 35 to 40 euros per hectare for GMO seeds over conventional ones, Deputy Director Cedric Poeydomenge of farm group AGPM said.

The insect-resistance of MON810 helped farmers save 8,800 litres of pesticide and 30,000 litres of fuel to spread it, AGPM said.

The French government subsequently moved to prohibit its cultivation. That ban was challenged and lifted in 2011, but the government has said it intends to re-institute it.

However, Europe exports twice as much wheat as it does maize. Gene-modification is not yet nearly as big of an issue for wheat as it is for maize, softening the predicted losses to Europe from its GMOs-resistance.

The ISAAA GM crops survey shows that farmers in Europe planted 114,490 hectares of GM maize in 2011, just over 1 percent of the total EU maize area. That compared with 88 percent in the United States.

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