Farming News - Italy bans GM maize

Italy bans GM maize

15 Jul 2013


Italian officials have put in motion a ban on genetically modified crops. On Friday (12 July), three Italian ministries signed a degree outlawing cultivation of genetically modified maize.


The Italian government intends to use the same 'safeguard clause' successfully brought by a number of other EU states which have opposed cultivation of the EU's only licensed GM crop, Monsanto's MON810 maize. The decree, signed by Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin, Farming Minister Nunzia De Girolamo, and Environment Minister Andrea Orlando, cites concerns over the crop's environmental impacts.


The decree still needs to be published in the official gazette before it will come into effect. When this happens, Italy will become the ninth EU state to have brought an official ban against the controversial maize. GM crops were grown in just five EU states last year, with Spain being the top producer. Italian farm association Coldiretti, which supports the ban, pointed out that last year GM crops were grown on "much less than 0.001 percent" of the EU's ​​160 million hectares of cultivated land.


Nevertheless, as many areas of the EU's GM policy are currently deadlocked and unresolved, including the licensing renewal process for MON810, national bans remain a legal gray area. In response to the Italian government's moves, the European Commission said it would "look into" the safeguard clause being used and that health watchdog EFSA would assess the science behind the ministers' claims.


The Italian Ministers cited numerous scientific studies to back their decree, including one from the Institute of Technology in Zurich, suggesting the crops are associated with harmful effects affecting ladybird larvae.  In June, Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo pledged to push for a ban on the crops; she said that over three quarters of Italy's regions have already declared themselves GM-free, though at present they cannot legally back this claim.  


The Ministers said on Friday that their decision was made in an effort "to safeguard the security of conventional and organic crops and elements of biodiversity that characterize [the] country." The new measure will ban GM maize from Italy for a period of 18 months.


Sergio Marini, president of Italy's Coldiretti farm union, welcomed the decision on Friday. He said each day of delay in implementing the decree "would be inexplicable," and gave his support for the immediate "implementation of safeguards to prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in Italy."


He continued, "The defense of Italian distinctiveness must be a policy priority since this is integral to the 'Made in Italy' [brand], which is… our means for a return to growth." The farm leader said GM agriculture "not only poses serious problems of environmental and food safety, but also pursues a pattern of development that is… the great enemy of authenticity and distinctiveness."


Coldiretti has consistently campaigned against GM crops, and championed organic growing (Italy is the EU's second largest producer of organic goods). Last month, a poll commissioned by the farm union revealed that opposition to GM had grown by 14 percent since 2012; 76 percent of respondents said they oppose the controversial crops.