Latest update: 29/03/2010
Genetically modified foods-harmful or helpful?
The Amflora potato has been given the EU’s green light for growth and while it’s not aimed for human consumption the move has reignited a long simmering debate over genetically modified crops.
By Eve IRVINE
The majority of Europeans oppose genetic modification, which are grown in only 6 of the EUs 27 countries, covering around 0.12 per cent of Europe's agricultural land, mainly in Spain. This month, for the first time in 13 years, the European Commission authorised the cultivation of a GM crop-the amflora potato. Fears are that similar approvals will rapidly follow.
This week ENVIRONMENT is getting its teeth dug into GM crops. Travelling to GERS in the south of France where too feuding farmers make their opposing views known. Horse breeder Pierre de la Serve grew genetically modified corn in 2007, the only year that GM crops were allowed in France. He says that the modified version was better quality and provided the best possible fodder for his horses. However just a few fields away, organic farmer Sylive Colas remains unconvinced and rejects claims that GM crops are more reliable.
"GM means industrial and intensive farming...it allows farmers to use chemical weedkillers...many GM crops were developed to be able to withstand these chemicals...but in organic farming we don't use them anyway so we have absolutely no need," she says.
Harmful or helpful? It's the question being asked around the world. In February, India put the brakes on the cultivation of what would have been its first genetically modified vegetable crop, the countries environment minister decided that more tests were needed to ensure that the modified aubergines were safe for consumers and the environment. But while the growth of GM crops there are now on hold, the debate rages on with many researchers saying that the manipulated varieties which could add vitamins to rice grains or make them more resistant to the elements- could help fight malnutrition.
Finally, after all that debate about new crops ENVIRONMENT turns to the forgotten lot. Some 98% of vegetable varieties have disappeared over the last century according to 'Garden organic' a leading organic research organisation in the UK. It points out that what we eat now comes from just 20 species of plants. In France the battle to bring back the old and ring out the new is gaining momentum.