Commercializing genetically modified crops under EU regulations

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Abstract or Summary

Agriculture faces serious problems in feeding 9 billion people by 2050: production must be increased and ecosystem services maintained under conditions for growing crops that are predicted to worsen in many parts of the world. A proposed solution is sustainable intensification of agriculture, whereby yields are increased on land that is currently cultivated, so sparing land to deliver other ecosystem services. Genetically modified (GM) crops are already contributing to sustainable intensification through higher yields and lower environmental impacts, and have potential to deliver further significant improvements. Despite their widespread successful use elsewhere, the European Union (EU) has been slow to introduce GM crops: decisions on applications to import GM commodities are lengthy, and decision-making on applications to cultivate GM crops has virtually ceased. Delayed import approvals result in economic losses, particularly in the EU itself as a result of higher commodity prices. Failure to grant cultivation approvals costs EU farmers opportunities to reduce inputs, and results in loss of agricultural research and development from the EU to countries such as the United States and China. Delayed decision-making in the EU ostensibly results from scientific uncertainty about the effects of using GM crops; however, scientific uncertainty may be a means to justify a political decision to restrict cultivation of GM crops in the EU. The problems associated with delayed decision-making will not improve until there is clarity about the EU’s agricultural policy objectives, and whether the use of GM crops will be permitted to contribute to achieving those objectives.

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