19 European Countries Say No to GMOs

Last Update: March 9, 2020

One by one, European Union member states stepped out in defiance against Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and the rest of the biotech mafia last week.

A total of 19 countries (out of 28 in the EU) utilized a clause allowing them to opt out from growing genetically modified crops—despite an EU-wide rule allowing the production of genetically modified crop MON819.

The countries that have said “no, thanks” to GMOs include: Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region, Britain for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovenia. The United Kingdom and Belgium applied the opt-out for only part of its territories, and Germany requested a partial opt-out so it could conduct more GMO research. According to Non-GMO Report, the massive opt-out represents more than 65 percent of Europe’s population and 66 percent of its arable land.

France has banned MON810 since 2008, citing its strong belief that the strain is harmful to the environment. Additional member states needed to have notified the European Commission by Oct. 3 as to whether they would allow the production of the genetically engineered crop.

“As the number of requests from member states shows, national governments are now using this legislation to have a greater say on cultivation on their respective territories,” the EU’s executive arm in Brussels said in a statement on Sunday.

But despite the widespread regional opposition to the cultivation of GMOs, some worry the EU’s output of genetically engineered food is more likely to grow than decline. That’s because several key agricultural countries have left the door open to GMO production, and biotech companies are awaiting approval of several new GE seeds.

Even still, Europe, where all 28 member states already require GMO labeling, appears to be light-years ahead of the United States government on the issue of genetically modified foods. For starters, GMO crops remain a huge part of the U.S. agricultural landscape. About 170 million acres of GE crops are planted yearly, with biotech varieties comprising more than 90 percent of some of the United States’ biggest commodity crops: Corn, soy and cotton. (The U.S. produces about half of the world’s GE crops.) That production is passed directly on to us, the consumers: Up to 75 percent of the processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves contain GMOs.

Meanwhile, Congress appears poised to make it even easier for Monsanto to control what we eat by supporting national legislation like the DARK Act, which would make GMO labeling voluntary and nullify state and local laws pertaining to genetically engineered foods.

Certainly, the news coming out of the EU this week is a welcome blow to Big Biotech. But it’s also a necessary reminder of just how far we have to go in this country. Though the United States isn’t likely to ban GMOs anytime soon, you can keep genetically modified foods out of your kitchen by shopping for foods verified by the Non-GMO Project.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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