Last week new legislation was passed in the EU which will be likely to make a large impact on European agriculture. Governments now have more power to decide whether to plant genetically modified (GM) crops. Genetic modification allows selected genes to be transferred from one organism to another. This has been used to produce crop varieties which require less herbicides, less pesticides and produce more food.
The technology is controversial, with many groups wary of its impact on health and the environment. Scientists argue that GM is simply a faster and more accurate way of traditional plant breeding, which ultimately has the same function of altering the genetics of a crop. Despite the huge potential benefits of GM, fears over the safety of using genetic technology have paralysed European crop development for the last decade. Meanwhile, the prevalence of GM in North America and Asia is soaring.
This new easing of restrictions, welcomed by the UK government, should allow the success of GM seen in the lab to be translated in to improvements in the field. However, GM food still faces a huge uphill battle with many EU countries adamantly against its introduction and a lack of interest from the major supermarkets.
With the population continuing to rise and the world’s climate continuing to change the EU must recognise that the benefits of GM will outweigh its lack of popularity. Otherwise, the EU risks falling behind as the rest of the world capitalises on GM to produce more nutritious, more sustainable and most importantly a greater amount of food.