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Stung Again: Europe's GMO Honey Ruling Puts Future Of Agriculture At Risk

Op Ed: A recent decision by the European Court of Justice regulating the components of honey is absurdly rigid and far-reaching, and could undercut any agricultural technological advancements in E.U. countries.

A French honey bee (wwarby)
A French honey bee (wwarby)
Ulli Kulke

BERLIN - Opponents of genetically modified foods are claiming sweet victory after a recent decision by the European Court of Justice regulating the components of honey. Although this decision pertains exclusively to honey production, the writing may be on the wall for the future of green biotech throughout the European Union, and across the entire agriculture sector.

When absurdity reaches a peak, as it has with this recent decision, the only place it can go from there is back down to earth.

The situation in itself is sounds like a joke: the EU high court decided that not a single jar of honey can be sold in the EU if it contains even the slightest trace of genetically modified organisms. A beekeeper who found such traces in his honey disposed of it and filed a complaint, successfully suing the neighboring farmer growing GMO crops in adjacent fields. No one – neither judge, nor plaintiff, nor members of environmental groups – ever suggested that there was any health risk posed related to the honey.

According to medical experts, even honey made exclusively from genetically engineered plants does not pose any known health risks. Biologists were also unable to detect any harm to the environment posed by the practice of GMO farming. Nonetheless, everyone is talking about this as an important decision for consumer protection, because that's what people want to hear. Instead of speaking about genetic engineering, the talk is of gene manipulation, and every GMO supporter is referred to as a "lobbyist."

The direct consequences of the EU court's decision are everywhere. In Germany, for example, four-fifths of the honey is currently imported, mostly from countries where farmers are already planting genetically modified plants to a high degree. If traces of these GM plants are found in imported honey or foods containing honey, then chances are great that the products will have to be taken off the shelves.

Farmers in countries such as Spain are already planting genetically engineered seeds across broad swaths of land. The dire consequence for Spanish honey farmers would be to move away from beekeeping altogether, making home-grown honey there an exclusivity.

Death for green gene technology

As the law currently stands, green gene technology is more or less over. Which farmer is going to buy GMO seeds for growing crops, knowing that beekeepers, even if their hives are quite a few kilometers away, may be looking to sue them? Fanatics who used to destroy GM crops don't have to go to such lengths anymore; all they have to do is set up a beehive in the vicinity of the fields where GM crops are cultivated and the rest will be taken care of by the law. The minimum distance of 150 meters to be observed between GM fields and other fields in EU countries – an agreement that took a lot of negotiations until it was determined – may now be of little consequence.

And worse yet: a complete branch of science, genetic biotechnology, that at some point was a source of hope, has been paralyzed. Proponents will now have to think twice before conducting experiments on farmland because the lawsuits that may follow will be given serious consideration, even if the claims are unfounded and seem ridiculous. So much for the current sector of biotech research in Europe, home to founders of the discipline including James Watson, Francis Crick and Gregor Mendel.

Perhaps the individual beekeeper's claim for compensation and the court's decision, in themselves, may have validity. Honey, once it should be known to consumers to contain traces of genetically engineered organisms, will probably be unsellable; not because of proven risks, but as a result of a fabrication of its dangers. The supposed health and environmental risks of genetic engineering have been shouted out for so long that even when scientists almost uniformly declare the health effects to be zero, public opinion remains fixed against it. Consumers just don't want GMO products. That seems to be the only valid argument in all of this. People don't want it, and that's apparently enough.

And yet nothing less than meeting the future challenges of providing sufficient food for the planet is at stake.

Read the original article in German

photo - wwarby

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