Have you heard the line about GMOs being banned in all other countries? It’s the old argument that if every other country has banned the commercial use of genetically modified crops, they must know something the United States doesn’t know. Worse yet, maybe our regulatory agencies know the secret for why GMOs are banned in other countries, but they’re being paid to allow it!
That’s rubbish, of course.
To explore the topic, it’s important to realize that there are different types of genetically modified crops, different types of permissions a country might give, and and very different political pressures in each country. Remember – in all countries GMOs are not planted unless they have been approved for commercial use by the government’s regulatory agency, much like the United States.
In most cases, biotech products have not been “banned.” Rather, they simply have not passed through the necessary regulations to become available.
The European Union does not allow for cultivation by EU farmers of biotechnology. However, they have not banned the consumption of GMOs. That means that they allow imports to contain genetically modified crops.
You can see a map here that shows what countries allow cultivation of biotech crops, which allow imports, and which are actually doing field testing. As you can see the vast majority of the world are invovled with biotech crops.
What makes the EU different from the United States is not a ‘ban’ on consumption or imports, but instead 1) non-approval of domestic cultivation of many GMO products, plus 2) mandatory labeling of food products that have even small traces of GMO content. Food companies in Europe have reformulated their products taking out all GMO ingredients so as to avoid these labels, and this is what has squeezed GMO foods for direct human consumption out of the market. But products from animals raised on GMO feed do not need a label, so Europeans continue to use GMO corn and soy for animal feed.
(Mark that as another reason to oppose labeling!)
But even within the EU, countries are becoming more and more open to growing biotech products. Just this past February, the EU approved a second GMO corn variety, this one produced by DuPont, to become commercially available. There is also a genetically modified corn plant by Monsanto that was allowed for use.
Scientists in the UK have urged that EU members be allowed to regulate the commercial use of GMOs nationally, instead of a blanket ban by the EU. In a recent letter to UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, scientists explained that while the EU is opposed to growing GMOs, UK’s farmers are very interested in it and the benefits would be good for their country.
On the other hand, France was one of the largest producers in the EU, until the moratorium was put in place in 2008. Since that time, the French courts have repeatedly held the ban is illegal and hurting French farmers, who very much want the technology back. You can read a (detailed) history of biotech products in the EU here.
As I have posted previously, China allows biotech products, but they’re slow to give the crops deregulated status for commercial growing. China waits until the United States or Brazil (and sometimes both) have allowed a biotech product to become deregulated before they even begin testing. That obviously creates a lag in their approval process.
And, remember, just because one variety of a biotech crop has been approved, doesn’t mean that all varieties of a crop are approved. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-Biotech Permits has a database which tells you exactly which traits are allowed and in what countries. You can also take a look at this chart which shows what products are allowed where and for what purpose.