Much of Europe’s Farmland Will Remain GMO-Free

Half of EU countries have enacted national bans against genetically engineered crops.

A cornfield in Alsace, France. (Photo: Charlie Waite/Getty Images)

Oct 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When the European Union eased its bloc-wide ban on planting genetically modified crops earlier this spring, many expected that the continent’s agriculture sector would open up to the biotech industry as much of the rest of the world has. The new law allowed for individual countries to decide how they would handle GMO crops, and with the deadline for declaring national bans set for Saturday, it looks like many of the individual members have chosen to maintain the status quo: 14 countries and four autonomous regions have said they will not allow genetically engineered crops to be planted on their soil.

When the likes of Scotland and Northern Ireland opted out, the decision looked to be more a matter of national marketing than ag policy: Neither country grows crops that have been genetically modified on any significant scale.

When it comes to countries such as France and Germany, however, there is more at stake. France, which leads the EU in agricultural production, grows 15 million metric tons of corn annually, and the harvest has been climbing steadily since the 1970s. While that’s nothing compared with the U.S.’ more than 350 million metric tons, France is a market that biotech seed companies would like to crack. While half of the states opted out, they represent nearly two-thirds of EU farmland, according to The Guardian.

“We deeply regret that some EU countries have decided to make use of the new licensed ban on the cultivation of safe and approved G.M. crops on their territory,” Beat Späth, director of Europabio, a biotech industry group, told The Guardian. “The new EU legislation allowing these bans is a ‘stop’ sign for agricultural cultivation that sends a negative signal for all innovative industries considering investing in Europe.”


(Map: Getty Images; Marc Fusco)

While there has been no science showing that consuming genetically engineered foods has a negative effect on human health, there is certainly consumer demand for GMO-free foods. And with nearly the entire U.S. corn and soy harvest coming from genetically engineered plants, these EU countries could be opening up a new market for themselves. After all, U.S. imports of organic corn from Romania spiked last year, as there wasn’t enough domestic grain to meet demand.