Science

The EU’s ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy Is Ill-Conceived and Destructive

There is ongoing disagreement between the popularly elected European Parliament and the executives in the European Commission over approvals of “genetically modified” (GM) crops, which are made with modern molecular genetic engineering techniques. In December, members of the European Parliament objected to authorizations of no fewer than five new GM crops — one soybean and four corn (maize) varieties — developed for food and animal feedstock. These objections follow dozens of others that have been made over the previous five years. (These are the same varieties that are ubiquitous in many other countries, including the United States.) A European Commission spokesperson has suggested that a new approach will be necessary to authorize such “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, in order to align with the new Farm to Fork Strategy, an agricultural strategy recently embraced by Europe:

“We look forward to constructive cooperation with the co-legislators on all these measures, which we believe will enable the achievement of a sustainable food system, including GMOs on which the EU feed sector is presently highly dependent.”

The latter part of this quote is, in fact, incomplete: There is extensive reliance of the EU on imports of both food and feed, of which a significant portion is genetically engineered. In 2018, for example, the EU imported about 45 million tons a year of GM crops for food and livestock feed. More specifically, the livestock sector in the EU depends heavily on imports of soy. According to Commission figures, in 2019-2020 the EU imported 16.87 million tonnes of soymeal and 14.17 million tonnes of soybeans, most of which came from countries where GM crops are widely cultivated. For example, 90% originates from four countries in which around 90% of cultivated soybeans are GM.

For a GM crop to enter the EU marketplace (whether for cultivation or to be used in food or feed, or for other purposes), an authorization is required. Applications for authorization are first submitted to a Member State, which forwards them to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In cooperation with Member States’ scientific bodies, EFSA assesses possible risks of the variety to human and animal health and the environment. Parliament itself plays no part in the authorization process, but it can oppose or demand rejection of a new GM crop based on any whim, prejudice, or the bleating of NGOs in their constituencies. They have chosen to ignore the sagacious observation of the 18th century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke that, in republics, “Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

GM crops have been shown repeatedly to pose no unique or systematic risks to human health or the environment. The policies articulated in Farm to Fork suggest a renewed interest by the EU in environmental sustainability but conveniently ignore that that is the essence of what GM crops can bring to the table. Numerous analyses, in particular those of economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, have demonstrated that the introduction of GM crops lessens the amount of chemical inputs, improves farm yields and farmer incomes, and reduces the need for tillage, thus reducing carbon emissions.  The indirect benefits from GM crops include empowering women farmers by removing the drudgery of weeding, and lowering the risk of cancer by lessening crop damage from insect pests whose predation can increase aflatoxin levels. Reducing crop damage in turn reduces food waste. GM crops can also improve farmers’ health by lessening the likelihood of pesticide poisoning, and GM biofortified crops can also provide nutritional benefits that are not found in conventional crops, a life-saving innovation for the rural poor in low- to middle-income countries.

The rift between the views of the European Parliament and EU scientific agencies such as the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shows no signs of healing. Bill Wirtz of the Consumer Choice Center predicts that trying to achieve the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy will have “dire impacts.” To address a legacy of environmental degradation, the EU proposes by 2030 to increase organic farming by 25% and reduce pesticide application on farmland by 50%. These plans fail to consider that pesticide use has sharply decreased over the past 50 years and that organic agriculture does not necessarily imply lower carbon emissions; often, the opposite is true.

Wirtz goes on to describe how slack compliance laws across the EU have made food fraud a viable business model. A significant proportion of this fraudulent organic food stems from international imports from countries, such as China, with a history of inferior quality and violation of food standards. However, he observes, increasing the surveillance and enforcement of food imports standards and rejecting those that are fraudulent could jeopardize current food security efforts, as well as the economy of the EU as a whole, given the EU’s substantial dependency on food imports.

The Farm to Fork initiative gets support from occasional specious articles in the “scientific” literature. An example is a paper published last December in Nature Communications, “Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights /inadequate pricing of animal products” by German researchers Pieper et al. The paper, which illustrates the hazards of meta-analyses on poorly selected articles, describes the use of life-cycle assessment and meta-analytical tools to determine the external climate-warming costs of animal meat, dairy and plant-based food products, made with conventional versus organic practices. The authors calculate that external greenhouse gas costs are highest for animal-based products, followed by conventional dairy products, and lowest for plant-based products, and they recommend that policy changes be made in order to make currently “distorted” food prices better reflect these environmental “costs.” They also claim that organic farming practices have a lower environmental impact than conventional, and for that matter, GM crops. They failed, however, to reference the immense body of work of Matin Qaim, Brookes and Barfoot, and many others, documenting the role that GM crops have played in furthering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and pesticide use, while increasing yield and farmers’ incomes. The omission of any reference to, or rebuttal of, that exemplary body of work is a flagrant flaw.

The paucity of GM versus organic crop data discussed in the paper is also deceptive. Anyone unfamiliar with the role of GM crops in agriculture would be left with the impression that organic crops are superior in terms of land use, deforestation, pesticide use and other environmental concerns. Yet many difficulties exist, especially, for pest management of organic crops, often resulting in lower yields and reduced product quality.

There is extensive and robust data suggesting that organic farming is not a viable strategy to reduce global GHG emissions. When the effects of land-use change are factored in, organic farming can result in higher global GHG emissions than conventional alternatives — which is even more pronounced if one includes the development and use of new breeding technologies, which are banned in organic farming.

Pieper et al claim — rather grandiosely, it seems to us — that their method of calculating the “true costs of food…could lead to an increase in the welfare of society as a whole by reducing current market imperfections and their resulting negative ecological and social impacts.” But that only works if we omit all the data on imported food and feed, turn a blind eye to the welfare of the poor, and disregard the impact of crop pests for which there is no good organic solution.

It is true that animal-based products have costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are not reflected in the price, that plant-based products have varying external climate costs (as have all non-food products that we consume), and that adopting policies that internalizing those costs as much as possible would be the best practice. Conventional farming often has significantly higher yields, especially for food crops (as opposed to hay and silage), than farming with organic practices. The adoption of agroecological practices mandated by Farm-to-Fork policies would greatly reduce agricultural productivity in the EU, and could have devastating consequences for food-insecure Africa. Europe is the major trading partner for many African countries, and European NGOs and government aid organizations exert profound influence over Africa, often actively discouraging the use of superior modern farming approaches and technologies, claiming that adoption of these tools conflicts with the EU’s “Green Deal” initiative. Thus, there is a negative ripple effect on developing countries of anti-innovation, anti-technology policies by influential industrialized countries.

Moreover, the EU even now imports much of its food, which as described above, has significant implications for its trading partners and Europe’s future food security. The EU seems to have failed to consider that continuing on the Farm to Fork trajectory will require endlessly increasing food imports, increasing food prices and jeopardizing quality. Or maybe they have just chosen to embrace the fad of the moment and kick the can down la rueAprès moi, le déluge.

Originally published here.

The Marlins Park Saga, Illegal Fishing, And Are Plastic Bans Good For The Environment?

Miami’s tough relationship with the Miami Marlins. Why illegal fishing is having devastating effects on marine life. Do plastic bans actually work in favor of the environment?

The Marlins Park Saga

If you’ve lived in Miami at some point in the past decade or two, you’re probably familiar with the controversy surrounding Marlins Park. Essentially, it was paid for with more than $600 million taxpayer dollars.

The city agreed to pay for it — as long as the team’s then-owner shared in any profits he made from selling the team.

“In 2008, Jeffrey Loria, the former owner of the Marlins, threatened to leave Miami if they didn’t get a new stadium. The Major League Baseball president at the time, Bob Dupuy, put an ultimatum to [Miami-Dade] County saying, ‘If you guys don’t help finance a new stadium, you can kiss baseball in South Florida goodbye,’” said WLRN reporter Danny Rivero on Sundial.

When Loria sold the team in 2017 for $1.2 billion, he refused to share the money promised, claiming he lost money in the sale.

“He said because of that, he didn’t owe the county or the city any money on this. That is what led to the lawsuit with the county and the city saying, ‘Hold on. Like, there’s no way that that math adds up. Like, we’re clearly owed something.’ The taxpayers are owed something from this huge profit,” Rivero said.

This week a settlement was reached on that lawsuit filed by the county, but commissioners decided to delay voting on the proposed $4.2 million from settling the suit.

Illegal Fishing

When you take a bite out of spicy tuna roll, or purchase salmon from your local supermarket, do you know if that fish was obtained illegally?

It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint just how much of that fish is coming from illegal sources, experts say. Marine ecosystems have been devastated by these unregulated markets and the practice of overfishing.

“Fish is the principal source of protein in the world. Lots of populations throughout the world only depend on fish and fish to survive. One of the most devastating impacts that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has is that it takes away the only source of protein that many coastal communities have throughout the world,” said former Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solís on Sundial.

Solís is currently interim chair of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. He was part of the university’s annual State of the World Conference this week, where he presented on the illegal fishing market.

He added that as a consumer, insisting that stores identify the source of the fish they’re selling, is a step in the right direction.

“Fishing has been determined as of the highest national security importance. This is very important in the Western Hemisphere. It’s going to be fundamental because it will allow for greater degrees of collaboration between our countries,” Solís said.

Are Plastic Bans Good For The Environment?

Plastic pollution contributes to a lot of our environmental hardships. It harms wildlife, the ocean and it contributes to the climate crisis by emitting greenhouse gases.

But plastic is also practical, durable and cheap.

Florida has a state-level preemption that blocks local governments from banning single-use plastics.

“We need to ask companies to reduce the amount of plastic they are putting into the supply chain and find alternative ways to package and deliver their products,” said Catherine Uden, the South Florida campaign organizer for Oceana. “Often consumers are not even given a choice when they go to the stores.”

In January, state lawmakers Linda Stewart and Mike Grieco introduced a bill to change that preemption to allow local plastic bans. Some argue, though, that these bans are not the solution.

“There are legitimate and environmentally conscious reasons for why we use plastic,” said David Clement, with the Consumer Choice Center advocacy group.

“The differences between a glass container for something like baby food and a plastic container. It’s about 33 percent better for the environment to have that product be in plastic because it’s lighter. It’s easier to get to your grocery shelf. It costs less in terms of fuel and emissions,” Clement said.

Clement recently penned an op-ed in the Miami Herald saying that extending the lifespan of plastics by building better infrastructure for recycling would be a better option.

Recycling, as it is now, has not been effective — less than 10 percent all plastic waste has been recycled.

“It’s like going into your house and seeing your sink overflowing and instead of turning off the tap, then just grabbing them up and trying to mop up the floor,” said local advocate Andrew Otazo. He spends his time cleaning up plastic trash from South Florida’s waterways.

Originally published here.

Red meat is not the enemy

Targeting meat misses the point.

The leaked EU Beating Cancer Plan layed out that Brussels wants to crack down on red meat, in an effort to reduce cancer in Europe. The European Commission considered dropping marketing subsidies for red and processed meat because of health concerns, but later reverted as it faced backlash. We now know that the Commission was testing the waters.

While it’s generally good news when a government institution drops subsidies, the reasons for it do matter. The idea that red meat constitutes a public health risk is not a new one, nor are calls to tax or sometimes even restrict the consumption of it directly. 

The essential claim is that processed meat is a danger to public health, as it is associated with an increased risk of cancer. The “associated with” is quite an important keyword here, especially since it is being repeated so often. Everything you consume is essentially carcinogenic, and can therefore be linked to different cancers. The question is how dangerous it is exactly. 

A study by Dr. Marco Springmann and James Martin, both Fellows at the Oxford Martin School bases claims on is a 2011 meta-analysis from the Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences, which says this:

“The preventability of colorectal cancer in the United Kingdom through reduced consumption of red meat, increased fruit and vegetables, increased physical activity, limited alcohol consumption and weight control was estimated to be 31.5 per cent of colorectal cancer in men and 18.4 per cent in women.”

You may have noticed here that reducing red meat consumption is just one out of five key characteristics that people would have to follow in order to cut down their risk of colorectal cancer by up to a third (for men). If you narrow it down only to red meat consumption, you find a possible risk reduction in the UK of five per cent, provided the person was eating more than 80g of red meat per day. So yes, certain people can reduce their risk of certain cancers to a certain degree if they limit their consumption of red meat.

However, this is only true if people reduce their consumption of red meat without offsetting it with any other consumption.

It seems that there is an unfortunate disinterest of public health advocates for the occurrence of unintended consequences. If you limit access to one product, people are likely to find alternative routes to consume that product elsewhere. Take the example of Denmark’s fat tax, introduced in the same year that the Paris meta-analysis was published. In October 2011, Denmark’s leading coalition introduced a tax on fattening foods and beverages, such as butter, milk, cheese, meat, pizza, and oil, as long as they contain more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat. After fifteen months, the same parliamentary majority repealed the tax, as the Danes recognised the measure to be a failure.

The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan initial draft was ready to open a Pandora’s Box, and it only hastily closed again after an excess of criticism. Cutting subsidies is not bad in itself, but the belief that all red meat is a human health hazard can lead to deeper paternalistic policies that are not based on evidence. It is true that we should all consume products in moderation — including red meat — and should increase our willingness to exercise. That said, it is not for legislators to tilt the scales on our diets, and decide which products are good for us, and which are not. It is for consumers to plan and execute their diets, in a conscious way.

Originally published here.

Video: ‘Science over unjustified cautiousness:’ Why UK should abandon Europe’s biotech crop rules

Many groups, including the Consumer Choice Center, have endorsed genetic technologies, and there is good reason to expect the UK government to finally choose science over unjustified cautiousness inherent to EU regulations.

“Boris Johnson has repeatedly mentioned his willingness to liberate the UK’s “extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules.” Such a policy would be a huge win for consumers and farmers, and at the same time it would also signal a momentous drift away from the European Union’s unjustified cautiousness towards these new technologies,” said Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

We at the Consumer Choice Center call on the UK government to take the path of more consumer choice and more science …. What are the benefits of enabling genetic engineering in the UK?

  • Approving GM pest-resistant crops could save about £60 million ($79 million) a year in pesticide use in the UK
  • More trade opportunities, including a trade deal with the US.
  • Improved agricultural performance with less labour and energy input and less cost input.
  • Reduced usage of pesticides and herbicides.

Originally published here.

Understanding “hazard” and “risk”

A lot of the Brussels conversation over the precautionary principle is misguided.

By 2030, the European Union’s “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides significantly. The EU deals in percentages of the total use of chemical substances it wants to cut, whether or not their scientific safety assessment was in any shape or form negative. This in essence makes it a political ambition, not an evidence-based policy.

When reading articles, blog posts, or policy papers related to the use of pesticides, we often hear the word “hazard”. “Highly-hazardous” chemicals or substances are in the focus of many environmental groups, who demand that the EU cleans up its act on the alleged ‘poison’ in our food. Theirs is a misunderstanding of the scientific meaning of “hazard” and “risk”

Risk-based regulation manages exposure to hazards. For instance, the sun is a hazard when going to the beach, yet sunlight enables the body’s production of vitamin D and some exposure to it is essential to human health. As with everything else, it is the amount of exposure that matters. A hazard-based regulatory approach to sunlight would shut us all indoors and ban all beach excursions, rather than caution beach-goers to limit their exposure by applying sunscreen. The end result would be to harm, not protect human health. 

The same logic of hazard-based regulation is all too often applied in crop protection regulation, where it creates equally absurd inconsistencies. For instance, if wine was sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under EU law, as alcohol is a known and quite potent carcinogen at high levels of consumption. All this is rationalized through an inconsistent and distorted application of the precautionary principle. In essence, hazard-based regulation advocates would endorse outlawing all crop protection methods that cannot be proven completely safe at any level, no matter how unrealistic — a standard which, if applied consistently, would outlaw every organic food, every life-saving drug, and indeed every natural and synthetic substance. 

By ignoring the importance of the equation Risk = Hazard x Exposure, hazard-based regulation does not follow a scientifically sound policy-making approach.

As risk-management expert David Zaruk writes on his blog The Risk-Monger:

“So why then are there individuals in Brussels who think that a regulator’s job is to remove all hazards, regardless of our ability to control exposure to the hazard, regardless of the limited exposure levels, regardless of the lost benefits? For these lobbyists (often activists for environmental-health NGOs), a hazard is considered as identical to a risk (regardless of exposure) and the regulatory goal (for them) is to remove all hazards. They support the approach known as: Hazard-based regulation.

Hazard-based regulation implies that the only way to manage risks is to remove the hazard. If synthetic pesticides are hazardous, remove them. If we cannot be certain that a chemical has no effect on our endocrine system (at any dose), then deny authorisation.”

This concept of differentiating hazard and risk in the scientific and regulatory language is also supported by EFSA — the European Food Safety Authority, which advises the European Union on things such as chemical approvals.

Understanding hazard and risk is essential when addressing all questions as they relate to the precautionary principle. Artificial intelligence is prone to fall victim to a similar level of over-regulation the advocates of extreme caution get their way. Instead, the European Union should choose the road to innovation. Evidence-based policy-making is about assessing risks, but it is also about managing risks for the sake of allowing for innovation while ironing out problems as they appear. 

We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in the global race for innovative technology because we are too afraid of changes.

Originally published here.

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born©Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock

The International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (I am Africa) aims to revolutionise African agriculture on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis. This desire, which was started on the fringes of the “One Planet Summit 2021”, is governed by a charter that is open for signature by other companies willing to invest in future-oriented agro-ecological sectors in Africa.

This is the agricultural version of the third edition of the “One Planet Summit”. On the side-lines of this international summit on climate change, held on January11th, 2021 by videoconference, more than 100 African and European operators from across the agricultural value chain launched the International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (Iam Africa). The initiative is governed by a charter in which the signatories commit themselves to investing in agro-ecology in Africa. “The objective of the signatories is to participate in the promotion of a strategy that combines social, environmental and economic development for the prosperitý but also for the preservation of the biodiversitý and more generally of the continent’s stabilitý,” says Karim Ait Talb, co-founder of the initiative and deputy managing director of the Advens/Geocoton group.

The provisions of the charter give a large part of the project implementation to local companies and organisations. And the collaboration between the latter and European structures should encourage technology transfers and the appropriation of the know-how necessary for the sustainable establishment of the agricultural and livestock production sectors envisaged by this charter.

The Sahel region will be a priority

Iam Africa intends to deploy particularly in the Sahel region, considered to be one of the epicentres of global warming in the world. The signatories of the charter are indeed convinced that the establishment of an agro-livestock value chain encouraging the deployment of agro-ecological practices, and the creation of dignified and sustainable jobs, will constitute an important response for the adaptation of the populations of the region and the mitigation of the effects of climate change, particularly with regard to migration flows and security challenges. The intensification in the Sahel of projects carried out in the framework of Iam Africa should also contribute to the realisation of the Great Green Wall initiative by 2030.

However, it would be prudent for Iam Africa members to adapt the vision of their charter to local realities. For some experts warn against the popularisation of agro-ecology in developing countries. Its lack of mechanisation, GMOs and the use of synthetic fertilisers is a blow to agricultural production. A recent study by pro-agroecology activists showed that applying these principles to Europe would reduce agricultural productivity by an average of 35%. For Bill Wirtz, a public policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, if such a scenario were to occur in Africa, it would be a disaster for a continent where 20 per cent of the population suffers from hunger (2017), according to a UN report.

Originally published here.

There is an easy way to make medicine instantly cheaper

Exempting drugs from VAT is a great tool to give patients a break.

COVID-19 has heightened public awareness on the question of drug prices. After vaccine prices had been leaked to the public by Belgian minister Eva de Bleeker, questions arose on the costs associated with creating vaccines. This is essentially a similar debate when it comes to the prices of all drugs.

The question of how to reduce the cost of drugs has led some to make interventionist suggestions. Many blame the greed of the pharmaceutical industry for drug prices, when in reality the truth is much more complicated. To some, the question is about intellectual property rights. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is running a campaign on access to medicines that distorts the realities of the drug market, while calling for solutions that would undermine scientific innovation. The “Access to Essential Medicines Campaign” seeks to increase the availability of medicines in developing countries by tackling the issue of price and intellectual property rights. In the eyes of MSF, producers and researchers are getting rich on the backs of those who can least afford it.

In reality, drug prices are a result of many considerations: the development costs, the amount of patients able to receive it, intellectual property rights (though not in the sense that MSF would have you believe), and… taxes!

Informed patients will know that all but one European country charge VAT on over-the-counter (OTC) medicine and prescription medicine. Germany charges as much as 19% VAT on both types of medicines, while Denmark ranks the highest, with rates at 25% – that is a fifth of the total price for a drug! There is only one country that does not charge VAT on prescription or over-the-counter drugs: Malta. Luxembourg (3% each) and Spain (4% each) also show that modest VAT rates on drugs are not a crazy idea but something millions of Europeans already benefit from. Sweden and the UK both charge 0% VAT on prescription medicine, yet 25% and 20% respectively on OTC.

One of the significant roadblocks towards more patient access to drugs is the unfair tax policies of some EU member states. Before talking about eroding intellectual property rights and price setting across the block, we should discuss whether we should have a VAT on medicines.

Especially on prescription medicine, where cancer drugs can reach substantial price levels, VAT rates of up to 25% significantly burden patients and their health insurance. 

On prescription medicine, there is little sense in first charging value-added tax, and then have national health insurance providers pick up the tab. As for OTC medicine, the implication that just because it isn’t prescribed, it, therefore, isn’t an essential good, is a blindspot of policy-makers. Many OTC meds, ranging from drug headache pain relief, heartburn medicine, lip treatments, respiratory remedies, or dermatological creams are not only essential medicines for millions of Europeans; they often act as preventative care. The more we tax these goods, the more we are burdening MDs with non-essential visits.

Zero VAT on medicines is a question of fairness. Everyone is burdened with the costs of the COVID-19 lockdowns. While we have become one-sided in our analysis of which medical problems are important, we need to understand that other medical treatments are needed as we speak, and that they represent a burden on all patients.

It is time for European nations to agree on a binding Zero VAT agreement on medicine or at least a cap at 5%, which would reduce drug prices in the double digits, increase accessibility, and create a fairer Europe.

Originally published here.

Will the GMO vaccine change our views on genetic engineering?

New vaccines use genetic engineering, but the European Union has generally remained opposed to this technology…

The most prominent version of a COVID-19 vaccine was developed through genetic engineering. The is a novelty in vaccine science, because it allows for easier processes in the way we fight diseases such as COVID-19. As Cornell’s Alliance for Science explains:

“That’s what the “m” in mRNA stands for : messenger. Messenger RNA just carries instructions for the assembly of proteins from the DNA template to the ribosomes. (Proteins do almost everything that matters in the body.) That’s it.

This is useful for vaccines because scientists can easily reconstruct specific genetic sequences that encode for proteins that are unique to the invading virus. In the COVID case, this is the familiar spike protein that enables the coronavirus to enter human cells.”

For the European Union, this meant that the European Parliament had to approve a derogation of existing GMO legislation. In a statement, the Parliament said that “The derogation will facilitate the development, authorisation and consequently availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”. According to EU legislation dating back to the early 2000s, genetic engineering is generally forbidden, with only a few exceptions. This was particularly driven by the scepticism of genetic engineering in agriculture.

Now that Europe is facing the largest health emergency in our lifetime, scientific innovation is desperately needed. This must be particularly confusing for all patients who could have been given more of a chance of survival if genetic engineering was allowed across the board for all treatments. The unfortunate reality is that GMOs have been so highly politicised that we have moved away from a sober evidence-based conversation. It is now politically viable to allow for scientific innovation to fight this virus but in the area of agriculture, we are still facing a dead end. If it is safe for vaccines, then shouldn’t we also trust the mountain of scientific evidence that it is safe in food?

Genetic engineering is technology, unlike any other. The precise genetic modification of crops has arisen not out of a need to interfere with nature, but out of necessity and thanks to human ingenuity. Early application of genetic engineering stood to solve the problems of complicated environments with challenging climates. As climate change progresses, these challenges will only grow larger.

Picture the state of human medicine prior to the development of certain advances. Ear or mouth infections or pneumonia led to the death of millions until penicillin came into widespread use. What is true in medicine, also applies for modern agriculture: high-yield farming has made our societies more advanced, provided us with a safer food supply, and has provided more food for fewer resources. The technologies of today are incomparable with those of 30 years ago. In fact, the invention of gene-editing has opened a new chapter for agriculture, allowing us to act precisely, with trusted experts. Pinpointed DNA-changes allow us to much more precisely target and understand the changes that we are making.

The GMO vaccine derogation is a first recognition that pinpointed DNA changes are safe and viable in human medicine. However, this was a realisation the Parliament was only able to reach because it was faced with unprecedented urgency. The concept of making this structural reform in the 2001 GMO Directive — which are necessary — is something that needs to be overcome politically. The scientific opinions are there: we know that genetic engineering can be conducted in a safe manner. What we now need to do is shift the conversation on the European stage, overcoming the unscientific narratives of many parliamentarians, and ushering in a new age of science in the European Union.

Originally published here.

Europe’s opposition to gene editing, pesticides means higher food prices for world’s poorest people

featured image blog

By 2070 the world will be populated by approximately 10.5 billion people. This means that we will need to be able to feed 3 billion additional humans every year. Fortunately, technological advances in agriculture and technology have helped us provide food for an extra 5.5 billion people in the last century compared to the 2 billion humans that populated the earth in 1920. According to the World Food Summit, since 1992, the number of hungry people in lower-middle-income countries has fallen by over 200 million, from 991 million to 790.7 million.

Stanford University estimated that if we would still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farm land of Russia’s size, the world’s largest country, to earn the same yields as current technology. This is a huge success but also leaves us to the task of improving the situation of the remaining children and adults facing hunger as a daily challenge.

Unfortunately, the current political narrative in one of the world’s wealthiest regions seems to ignore the challenges ahead of us and wants us to turn to less efficient farming. The European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy sets out to create a more sustainable food system by the end of this decade. However, looking at the currently proposed ideas, it is worrisome that this new policy framework will achieve the opposite of sustainable farming and lead not just Europe but the entire world in a potential food crisis with massive geopolitical ramifications.

The EU plans to increase the share of organic farming as a total of agricultural production from currently 7.5% to 25%. Additionally, they plan a reduction of 50% in pesticides. At the same time, the F2F strategy does not embrace new technologies that allow farmers to achieve the same yields they are able to produce using the current level of pesticides.

For several reasons, including its low yields and the consequent need to bring more land into agricultural production, organic farming is particularly detrimental to meeting the world’s food demand.

What does this mean for feeding 10.5 billion people in 2070?

world population

More organic farming in Europe means lower yields of EU food production and higher prices for consumers. The shortage in Europe will be likely compensated by additional food imports from other parts of the world. This will lead to a global increase in food prices. For affluent regions of the world such as Europe, this will be rather a nuisance for consumers. This will have very negative consequences for people already living at the edge of existence and facing hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that farmers globally would lose 30%-40% of their crops due to pests and diseases if they don’t have crop protection tools such as insecticides or herbicides on hand. Up to 28% of all liver cancers worldwide can be attributed to aflatoxins, a mycotoxin type. Without allowing farmers to apply fungicides that reduce human exposure to these toxins, we keep risking millions of lives.

food production

In the last 100 years, pesticides have been proven to be a necessary evil in achieving higher and more predictable crop yields. In the past 60 years, we have seen a reduction of 40% in pesticide use per acre, and many less safe substances have been phased out. The emergence of genetically modified crops and the latest breakthroughs in gene editing allows a further reduction of spraying chemicals on the fields.

About 20% of the world population lives in South Asia. Due to India’s caste system farmers of the lowest castes live and farm on land that is more likely to experience regular floodings, with detrimental results for their rice harvest. Gene-edited crops allow the rice to submerge underwater for up to two weeks and still provide high yields. Such technologies are a clear game-changer for the poor and hungry and should be embraced. There’s no humanitarian case against them but a strong one for them.

gene editing game changer

Unfortunately, many critics of pesticides also oppose the use of gene editing. This leads to a dilemma that ultimately brings us to less food produced while global food demand will keep growing. One does not need to be an economist to understand that this will result in higher food prices.

We all have seen the dramatic refugee crisis in 2015 including all the terrible suffering and drowning of children and women in the Mediterranean. While the EU’s policies did not trigger this crisis, our future agricultural policies might cause widespread famines in parts of Africa and Asia. They might start a migration wave we haven’t seen since the migration period in the 5th and 6th centuries. History unfortunately shows that such massive uncontrolled migration streams usually also come with war and unrest.

The ‘western’ idea of making farming more organic will lead to a global food price inflation and hurt those that already struggle. We indeed all share one planet and therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem 10% of the world population faces daily. No one, no matter if one is a proponent of mass migration or not, should desire a massive influx of starving people. Several adjustments to the EU’s future policies are needed in order to mitigate many negative drivers of poverty and hunger.

The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy needs to take this into account and not jeopardize our ability to feed an ever-growing population.

Fred Roeder is a consumer advocate and health economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. Since 2012 he has served as an associated researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute. Fred can be found on Twitter @FredCyrusRoeder

Originally published here.

Our “sustainable” food policy leaves us with unsustainable trade

The ambitious targets of the F2F strategy will cause headaches for the EU’s trade policy.

The European Commission has laid out an ambitious plan with the Farm to Fork strategy, which is set to flip agriculture in Europe upside down. For the EU, agriculture is to blame for much of the lack of sustainability in Europe, forcing farmers to pick up much of the burden of the fight against climate change. To do so, it sets out two flagship targets: 25% organic farming by 2030, and a reduction of pesticides by 50% in the same timeframe.

Some experts have pointed out the adverse effects of bringing organic food production up, since a) organic food also needs pesticides, and b) it emits more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional agriculture. The same goes for pesticides: the amount of pesticides used today is incomparable to the level of substances used in the 1960s. Existing chemical substances are declared safe by EU agencies, and countless regulators in the member states. However, those facts are stories in themselves. What is often forgotten in the debate is the import of “unsustainable” food.

On the one hand, Europe’s increasing food standards worsen the effect of illicit trade. Take the example of fraudulent organic food imports. In its 2019 report titled “The control system for organic products has improved, but some challenges remain“, the European Court of Auditors found structural problems with the control system of organic food trade, despite controls being implemented in 1991.

 In a section on the communication on non-compliance, the ECA writes:

“In Bulgaria, we found that some control bodies notified the competent authority about certain types of non-compliances only through their annual reporting. The competent authority did not notice this during its supervisory activities. In Czechia, we found that on average control bodies took 33 days in 2016 and 55 days in 2017 to report a non-compliance affecting the organic status of a product to the competent authority.” 

The report also notes that non-compliance communication delays are 38 calendar days on average in the European Union, while existing regulations stipulate that reporting should happen without delay. This means that non-compliant organic products, i.e. fraudulent organic trade, continue a month on average in the legal circulation of the European single market, before being flagged to consumers. 

If the European Union and its member states are serious about quality control and consumer information and protection, they need detection and reporting mechanisms that outperform the supply chain. The ECA also notes that member states were delayed in their reporting to the European Commission by an average of 4 months and that 50% of all analysed reports were missing information. China is the largest exporter of organic food to the European Union (based on weight, 2018 figures, from ECA report, see below). With significant difficulties concerning quality control of a large range of products originating from China, it should be clear that EU institutions must prioritise the authenticity of these food imports.

Further than that, legal imports will also eventually fall under the category of unsustainable under the rules and regulations of the European Union. This is already leading to a considerable problem with the adoption of the Mercosur-EU free trade agreement, and has in the past prevented agreements like TTIP. Europe will face a difficult choice: double down on the planned standards, and thereby risking to raise protectionist barriers, or even create food insecurity, or rather re-evaluate the necessity for certain environmental goals. 

Some voices want the first option, and prevent unsustainable imports through carbon border taxes, which are import tariffs. They forget to ask themselves, if production in Europe has slowed, will prevention imports really be the solution that manages to keep farming in Europe afloat?

The targets set in the Farm to Fork strategy are set to have dire impacts. According to an impact assessment conducted by USDA, the strategy would lead to a decline in agricultural production between 7-12%. Meanwhile, the EU’s decline in GDP would represent 76% of the decline in the worldwide GDP. Adding to that, the situation of food security and food commodity prices deteriorates significantly under a worldwide adoption scenario, as USDA researchers have found.

Europe should not get ahead of itself and worsen the standards of living for consumers and farmers alike. The Farm to Fork strategy either needs a serious rethink or a long-term moratorium.

Originally published here.

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