Farming News - Italian farm minister pushes for GM crop ban

Italian farm minister pushes for GM crop ban

25 Jun 2013


Italian agriculture minister Nunzia De Girolamo said this week that she will seek a ban on genetically modified crops in Italy. The farming minister said she had the backing of the country's health and environment ministers.  


Tuscany, Italy

In April, Italian government officials wrote to the European Commission requesting the EU executive reject the renewal of a controversial genetically modified maize variety – currently Europe's only GM crop licensed for commercial cultivation.


The variety in question, Monsanto's MON810 maize, sold as Yieldgard, is mainly grown in Spain, though it has been banned by the governments of France, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Luxembourg and, most recently, Poland.


Speaking to the Italian press, De Girolamo pointed to the other European states that have implemented popularly supported bans on GM crops, though she acknowledged such a ban would be illegal under European law. At the behest of biotech companies, concerned about the repercussions of such national measures, EU agricultural powerhouse France's ban on GM crops has been repeatedly challenged in European court.  


In contrast to many other European states, Italy's major farm lobby group, Coldiretti, also supports a ban.  The latest research published by Coldiretti suggests 76 percent of Italians oppose GM technology; this represents a 14 percent rise in opposition to the controversial technology since June 2012.


Coldiretti said on Monday that GM crops are grown on just 0.01 percent of Europe's cultivated land (which covers an estimated 160 million hectares).


UK environment minister Owen Paterson last week declared his support for GM crops and the biotech industry, suggesting the crops are widely grown worldwide and that Europe risks "being left behind" by failing to embrace the technology; in reality 90 percent of the controversial crops are grown in just five countries worldwide.


Furthermore, recent research from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand suggests that the GM crop package adopted by US farmers has actually proven detrimental compared to Europe's agricultural development. After examining a range of major field crops grown in both Western Europe and North America, the researchers said reliance on GM crops, which account for around 80 percent of commercial seed sales in the US, "are causing it to fall behind Europe in productivity and sustainability".


The researchers added, "We found that the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than the use of the GM-led packages chosen by the US. Our research showed rapeseed (canola) yields increasing faster in Europe… decreasing chemical herbicide and even larger declines in insecticide use without sacrificing yield gains, while chemical herbicide use in the US has increased with GM seed."  


Over three quarters of Italy's regions have declared themselves GM-free, though they cannot legally back this claim. The intense hostility to GM crops, so palpably felt in Italy, stems in part from the country's place as Europe's second largest producer of organic products and home to the Slow Food movement.