Farmers, green groups demonstrate against proposed GMO legislation

Farmers, green groups demonstrate against proposed GMO legislation
Credit: Belga

Members of various agricultural and environmental organisations converged on Thursday at Luxembourg Square, Brussels, to rally against a proposed European regulation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

They claim the regulation would limit the freedom of farmers and consumers to produce and consume GMO-free food.

The demonstration was spearheaded by Demeter VZW, a group that promotes biodynamic farming.  “Agro-industry wants to take away our freedom to grow our seeds,” the group charged. It accused the EU of conducting an intense lobbying campaign to enact legislation allowing GMOs, gene technologies and New Breeding Techniques (NBT) in agriculture and the food chain.

Besides Demeter, the protest was also backed by groups such as Food Otherwise, Farmers Forum, VELT, Vital Breeds, and BioForum VZW.

The proposal by the European Commission seeks to deregulate GMO laws and lift risk assessments for gene technologies, such as CRISPR. These changes would reveal a path for unrestricted usage of such techniques without requiring labelling, which has alarmed the organisations.

“No one will know if they are eating GMOs,” warned Greet Lambrecht, an organic farmer from Vital Breeds VZW. She stressed that the legislation threatened the freedom of organic farmers or any individuals who purposefully avoid GMOs. “If Europe is serious about the growth of organic agriculture, it must provide watertight guarantees to ensure the sector can operate GMO-free,” Lambrecht stated emphatically.

The new law also poses a potential risk for plant breed improvement. As patents can be issued for plants with attributes obtained through GMO techniques, conventional breeders may be outcompeted. Lambrecht describes plant breeding as a human right and believes this legislation is a stark factor undermining farmers’ autonomy.

The organisations also maintain that lobbying companies, backed by agro-industry interests, falsely promote the notion that GMOs can easily alter plant characteristics. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” the organisations respond.

They charge that the proposed law is being rushed through the approval process without public scrutiny, especially when the majority of European consumers and farmers reject GMOs.

Tijs Boelens, spokesperson for the Farm Forum, described this as “Europe choosing profit for a few listed firms over its people," adding: "European policymakers are playing with fire.”

Boelens urges Europe to support farmers rather than open the floodgates to corporations such as Bayer-Monsanto, CORTEVA, and Syngenta.

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