Overturning its six-year old ban on genetically engineered foods, the European Union (EU) last week changed course and approved the import of an insect-resistant strain of corn developed by Swiss company Syngenta.
“It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize,” says David Byrne, commissioner for health and consumer protection for the EU. “Food safety is therefore not an issue. It is a question of consumer choice.”
While the EU is allowing the import of the genetically modified corn, it is not allowing any such foods to be cultivated within its member countries, although applications are pending. Additionally, any imported biotech food will be labeled clearly as such in an effort to provide consumers with all the information necessary to make informed individual decisions.
Major agricultural exporters, including the U.S., have been urging the EU to overturn its ban, citing a violation of international trade rules. American farmers report they are losing millions of dollars in sales each year as a result of the EU ban.
Advocates of genetically modified agriculture cite lower production costs, higher yields and less dependence on pesticides as key benefits. Meanwhile, opponents worry that not enough research has been conducted on such foods to determine if they are truly safe for people and the environment.