Prague Post (Czech Republic) via AgBioView
By Martina Cermáková
June 17, 2009

‘New study advocates fewer restrictions for modified crops’

Researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences have published their opinion on genetically modified crops in a 95-page "White Book" that has been hailed as the most comprehensive presentation of experimental work done on crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

Spelling out the advantages of such crops, the June 10 study calls for a change in how the risks of produce cultivated in this manner are assessed on the EU level. The idea is to reduce politically motivated debate and to play up the role of scientific evidence in EU decision-making.

Though feedback hasn’t trickled in yet, a faction of the scientific community quietly opposes the appeal. "This is promotion of GMOs," said Jaroslava Ovesná of the Crop Research Institute, who refused to undersign the book’s content.

Though Ovesná deemed the published findings valuable and indisputable, she expressed serious reservations about an appeal to allow member states to sanction technologies not yet approved by the EU. "I won’t encourage anyone to not keep to the legislation," she said.

As a key example of politically motivated policies not in line with current EU legislation, the authors cite the 2008 ban on genetically modified "Bt" corn in France and subsequently in Austria, Hungary and Greece. In all cases, the European Food Security Authority’s GMO Panel concluded that information the countries provided in support of the ban did not "present any new scientific evidence."

Ovesná noted that political and economic forces are inherent to the EU’s approval process of GMO requests but that the final vote is hardly ever unanimous.

After the European Food Security Authority assesses a request, it is passed to the European Commission, and that’s where individual state differences come into play, she said.

During its 2008 EU presidency, France, with the support of nine member states, pushed for socioeconomic factors to be taken into account during the risk-assessment process of GMOs, which might push scientific evidence into the background and politicize the whole process even more, said Agriculture Ministry spokesman Petr Vorlícek.

Ovesná would like to see more flexibility and time-efficiency in the approval procedures, but she worries that no scientific findings will influence that.

Drawing from field studies of the Biology Center at the Academy of Sciences in ?eské Bud?jovice as well as the Crop Research Institute, the White Book’s authors conclude: "GM crops are more profitable for farmers and more environmentally friendly than comparable technologies." "Two key advantages of GMOs include the reduced need for insecticides and tolerance of herbicides," said Lubos Babicka from the Czech University of Life Sciences.

Stepán Cizek, head of agricultural co-op ZD Moina, which has cultivated Bt corn since it became legal in 2005, echoes these findings. "[Bt corn] yields at least 20 percent more," he said of the co-op’s 500 hectares of crops in Morina, south of Prague. "The corn is much healthier, not infested at all by the maize moth, and that’s also why it vegetates for longer periods."

Magdalena Klimovicová of global movement Greenpeace said that such yields are inflated and instead sided with an April study, "Failure to Yield" by Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report found that the yield advantage of Bt corn over typical conventional practices to be closer to 3 percent to 4 percent.

The Agriculture Ministry predicts a decrease of land used for GM-crop cultivation from 8,380 hectares in 2008 to 7,000 this year. Vorlícek said the decline owes to continuing problems with sales of Bt corn, as buyers prefer unmodified corn.

The ministry will leave Bt corn development in the hands of cultivators and consumers, Vorlícek said. In a country with the highest tolerance of GM products within the EU, the White Book’s authors feel that consumers will play an important role in the shaping of future policies concerning GMOs.