An unclear discussion

Transgenes also known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), are organisms which have been genetically modified by inserting new genes or modifying the existing ones. Agricultural plants are the most common example of this type of organisms. The advantages of using genetic engineering for crops are:

  • Increased crop yields
  • Improved quality
  • Reduced need for pesticides due to a higher resistance to pests and diseases
  • Enhanced nutrient composition
  • Higher tolerance to heat, cold or drought (hmm.. sounds like climate change isn’t it?!)

Unfortunately we also have risks, which may result from the use and escalation of transgenic crops:

  • Threat to the existing biodiversity since the stronger modified plants can invade other areas and prevent the existing ones from growing
  • Ecological imbalances: for example a resistance gen can reach undesired plants, fostering the uncontrolled growth of them and threatening existing ecosystems
  • Potential health risks to humans: exposure to new allergens and transfer of antibiotic resistant genes to gut flora, needed for a correct metabolism and other functions such as the colon cancer prevention.
  • Potential economic imbalances since large corporations will benefit from using genetic engineering while traditional farmers won’t be able to afford the technology

Besides the scientific facts, there is an ethic question about the right of humans to play God and the resulting barriers on the use of transgenic crops worldwide. Clear labeling rules are required to make sure we are all informed and we can make conscious choices.

Risks assessments and regulation are essential even though the complexity of estimating the impact of commercial GMO use. We need to prevent the potential harmful consequences of using transgenic crops by thorough regulation.

In Europe, a regulation reform to empower European countries to decide separately on transgenic was recently approved (13th January 2015). The reform divides the new transgenic crops approval in two phases. First, countries against the approval need to notify the European Commission about their rejection.

Second if the company of the new transgenic crops wants to carry on with its introduction accepting not to enter the countries which rejected the product, it needs to ask for the introduction of the product in the rest of the countries to the European Commission in Brussels.

If the company doesn’t accept the geographic limitation, European States need to justify the reasons to ban the transgenic crop. At the end of the process and once the crop has been accepted by the European Food Safety Authority (the European entity on charge of assessing the impact of the product), the countries which were against it at first, would be able to ban the product in their territory.

High controversy from both companies developing transgenic products and environmental protection associations resulted from the reform. On the one hand, ecologists complain about the empowerment of transgenic companies and easiness on the new transgenic products introduction due to the reform. On the other hand, the transgenic company Monsanto, perceives the reform as a barrier for new transgenic crops and prevents the market from developing.

Even though the reform will give higher flexibility to each country and it will unblock some new products introductions which were pending on the reform, the European discussion about transgenic crops is still unclear and far from concluding.

What is about you? Are you in favor or against transgenic crops?