According to the USDA Economic Research Service, over 90% of soya, corn and cotton grown in the US is herbicide resistant and over 80% is insect resistant. The US is the largest growers of commercial GM crops in the world.
To commercially produce crops, biotech companies apply for “deregulated status”, which allows planting and distribution of GM crops without USDA interference.
Despite the ubiquity, there’s a growing backlash in the US over GM crop use. Pew Research shows 57% of US citizens believe GM crops are unsafe, and 67% say scientists don’t understand the health effects. This was regardless of ideology and education. Those with higher levels of education were more evenly divided than less educated groups, who were more likely to think GM crops were unsafe.
EU Evidence of GM safety (even from the EU’s own science body) hasn’t swayed public opinion, which remains stubbornly against GM crop cultivation.
Ostensibly in line with the precautionary principle, issued an effective moratorium on GM crop import and cultivation in 2003, giving it some of the strictest GM rules in the world. At the time of writing, there’s only one GM crop grown in the EU: Bt maize, which was approved back in 1998.
The Council on Foreign Relations claims the US and EU use the precautionary principle to block products entering their markets. The Institute for Economic Affairs and the Centre for European Policy Studies have criticised the EU's use of the precautionary principle as unclear, unaccountable, and often arbitrary. In the eyes of the World Trade Organisation, the moratorium is illegal.
Recently, the EU relaxed its laws. If a crop has been approved by the EU, then individual countries can decide whether or not to grow it. A safeguard clause allows nations to block GM crop growth if there is evidence that it will harm human health or the environment. This evidence then has to be submitted to the European Commission.
The vote to relax EU restrictions passed in a landslide with cross-party support from Conservatives, Liberals and Social Democrats alike. Green groups, nationalists and the far left opposed the changes.
Despite this, GM crops have proved quite the headache for the European Commission, with the safeguard clause being abused by member states. German bans on GM maize are scientifically unjustified and French bans on the same crop were ruled illegal in 2011. Poland became the 10th nation to opt out of growing GM crops. The battle for GM crops in Europe continues.
Currently, England doesn’t grow GM crops commercially. The government’s official line is to implement the tech on a case by case basis following scientific assessments, GM food labelling, and accounting for public opinion in using and developing GM technology.
New laws passed in January allow for the cultivation of GM crops for animal feed, despite polls showing public scepticism to the technology.
Prior to the 2015 general election, cross party support for the technology existed. This cross party consensus is less clear since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader.
An official statement from the Labour Party on GMOs is hard to come by, but Corbyn voted against the marketing of GM crops in the UK in the past (although in fairness, his voting record on wider GM policy is more ambiguous).
The Lib Dems voting record over the last 15 years or so is distinctly anti-GM; however they’ve warmed to the technology, even if residual opposition remains.
Scotland, meanwhile, requested exemption from any EU consent to cultivate GM crops by Westminster, effectively amounting to a GM crop ban. The scientific community shook their collective heads in shame.
Individuals who write for certain science blogs and disregard concerns for libellous sounding statements suspect the decision was politically motivated. Statements about “…protecting Scotland’s green image” came up numerous times in the policy announcement. Concerns about science, health or the environment appeared zero (yes, zero) times.
Under EU regulations, countries can only grow GM crops that are approved, so the only one Scotland could grow is Bt maize. Scotland is too cold for commercial maize growth. It banned a product it physically cannot grow.
Moreover, livestock can still be fed on imported GM foods. The National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland points out the difficulty in finding non-GM livestock feed, which undermines the whole “protecting Scotland’s green image” somewhat. The NFU has put pressure on the Scottish Government to reconsider the ban.
Rapidly growing populations in Asia, and rising demand for high quality foods have meant GM crops will likely form a large part of future Asian diets.
China and India are Asia’s two largest producers of GM crops. India’s is exclusively in cotton, while China’s is more widespread.
95% of India’s cotton growth is of GM crops. But it’s picky about which crops are okay. In 2012 the Indian Supreme Court recommended a 10 year moratorium on GM food crops. Renewed opposition has also risen over India’s GM cotton.
Japan, although it has yet to permit GM crops to be commercially grown on Japanese soil, does allow for the import of GM crops.
In the Phillipines, pressure from Greenpeace caused the Supreme Court to strike down the Agricultural Department order authorising the testing, growth, and imports of GM crops, effectively banning GMOs.
Latin and South America
Brazil and Argentina are the 2nd and 3rd largest producers of GM crops in the world after the US. Argentina was one of the first nations to accept the cultivation of GM crops.
Honduras, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Columbia all allow for GM crop growth. Venuzuela, following a 2004 referendum, banned their cultivation. Ecuador had it written into its 2008 constitution. The current president, Rafael Correa, regrets this decision.
Africa, by and large, is open to GM technology. COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) introduced a draft GM policy in 2013 to assess crops and approve their growth in all 19 countries, with each nation deciding whether to grow the crop.
The largest grower of commercial GM crops in COMESA is South Africa. Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria all passed laws to allow for commercial growth of GM crops. Cameroon, Malawi and Uganda approved GM crop trials in 2013.
Early studies have made the case that GM banana crops stand to boost yields and reduce poverty in rural areas.
Not all of Africa is pro GM. Zambia banned GM Maize cultivation and import in 2002 in line with the precautionary principle set out in the Cartagena Protocol. This subsequently cut off UN Food Aid to the region, leaving the population without food. During a famine.
Zambia still has a ban on GM cultivation, but allows GM food imports. This is primarily to protect exports to GM-sceptic markets (i.e. Europe). Farmers continue to suffer as a result.