Open letter from top researchers decries politicisation of the approval process for genetically modified crops


Twenty-one of Europe's top plant scientists signed a letter calling on the EU to take politics out of GM crop approvals

A group of 21 top European plant scientists have issued an open letter demanding that the EU take action to ensure that they and other scientists are able to pursue genetically modified (GM) plant research. The scientists, who describe feeding a rapidly growing global population as ‘among the greatest challenges facing mankind,’ say that in most European countries GM plant field experiments are blocked not on scientific grounds, but for political reasons.

‘In countries that do permit field experiments, these are often systematically vandalised, causing huge scientific and financial losses,’ the scientists declare in the letter. ‘Some of us have even been threatened and had private property vandalised. This is a serious threat to science, to publicly funded research and to European society itself.’

The open letter lists three outstanding GM crop issues that it states must be addressed by EU policymakers. The first is funding, which must be held stable or, if possible, increased. ‘Plant science has arguably contributed more to the reduction of human suffering than biomedical research, yet compared with the latter it is hugely underfunded worldwide,’ they state. Secondly, they say that authorities must ensure that GM field experiments, which have been approved, are allowed to function without threat of damage or disruption. ‘Vandals must be prosecuted and held accountable for scientific and financial damage,’ they state. Thirdly, they say the EU must promptly authorise GM crops ‘that have been found safe by the competent authority following a thorough science-based risk evaluation’.

The open letter states that of the top 30 most cited authors in plant science in Europe, 27 hold positions at publicly funded research organisations. Of those 27 scientists, 21 agreed to sign the open letter, according to Stefan Jansson, a plant scientist at Umeå University in Sweden, who coordinated the letter, while the six others declined to for varying reasons.

Jansson tells Chemistry World that the letter was released on 30 October to coincide with the arrival of the new European commission, whose members officially take office on 1 November. Also, the European parliament’s committee on environment, public health and food safety is scheduled for 5 November to discuss a second reading of a proposal already approved by the European council that would allow EU member states to ban GM crops approved for EU-wide cultivation within their national boundaries.

Jansson says he would prefer a plan that would allow GM crop cultivation in all European nations. However, he acknowledges this might not be politically possible, adding that any change, such as allowing nations the option of banning GM crops approved for EU cultivation, would be an improvement over the current situation. ‘It can’t get any worse than it is now,’ he says.