Will Hungary be the first EU country to ban GMOs?

Following a new EU regulation, Hungary is moving to ban all genetically modified crops within its borders. Will this bolster GMO opposition in the US?

Andy Cripe/AP/File
This May 1, 2015 photo shows juvenile poplar trees in Oregon State University forestry professor Steven Strauss' lab in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State University says a Benton County ballot measure that seeks to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in the county could hurt university research projects.

The growing anti-GMO movement has gained traction in Europe as Hungary aims to be the first European Union nation to end the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

Earlier this year, the EU decided to allow its member states to ban genetic modification in their respective agriculture industries and Hungary is leading the way. While the Hungarian government works to make the new regulations law, the Hungarian Farm Ministry will introduce a new labeling system to identify products such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, and honey that has been certified as GMO-free and livestock have been fed GMO-free food.

As the anti-GMO movement spreads beyond companies like Chipotle and Cheerios to entire countries, it begs the question of what threat GMOs actually pose and who stands to gain from the burgeoning movement against them.

Deputy state secretary Dr. András Rácz insisted that “the Hungarian government is convinced that maintaining Hungary’s GMO-free status is the only right choice, because it is the only way to ensure that families have access to safe and sustainably produced food and to preserve natural diversity and the competitiveness of Hungarian agriculture,” Hungary Today reported.

Additionally, Hungary’s Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas has even mounted the “Alliance for a GMO-free Europe” initiative to encourage other countries in the EU to become GMO-free zones as well.

The agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto thinks this is a bad move for Europe. The company spoke out against the EU’s decision to allow individual countries to ban GMO crops and has since launched an aggressive pro-GMO PR campaign.

Advocates for GMOs say that their usage would allow for greater food security as the world's population increases, an end to the overuse of pesticides, and increased crop productivity. But Monsanto’s reputation for destroying small farms and business with its seed licensing policies and aggressive legal team have turned many against GMOs simply by association.

Despite continued uneasiness with genetically modified food and regardless of ethics, there is a growing sense that the anti-GMO backlash may not be scientifically accurate.

While it is difficult to prove once and for all that something is safe, particularly such a new technology, the World Health Organization (WHO), US Food and Drug Association (FDA), and American Medical Association have all agreed that there is no evidence that eating genetically modified food is a health risk.

Moderate voices suggest a compromise: to continue distribution of genetically modified foods while increasing testing and analysis of long-term impacts so as to insure safety but not stunt progress. Meanwhile, Europe continues on its anti-GMO track and researchers realize they would have better luck elsewhere.

"Our research and development work is mainly conducted in the places where the resulting products are actually used, and in the case of GM that is not in Europe," Richard Breum, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, told Scientific American. "That will not change with the new law."

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