Czech scientists call for rational debate on GMO

A week before a key vote by EU environment ministers on tightening GMO cultivation rules, leading Czech scientists have called on European politicians to start a rational debate on the future of genetically modified plants. Claiming that GMOs are safe both for consumers and the environment, Czech experts would like to see the European Union embrace a more liberal attitude towards biotech crops.

After France suspended commercial cultivation of genetically modified maize last November, the Czech Republic became the European Union’s second largest producer of biotech corn, after Spain. At a press briefing in Prague on Thursday, leading Czech scientists in the field of agricultural biotechnologies called for a rational debate on the issue and for more liberal EU policies on GMO in general. Jaroslav Drobník, a professor of biotechnology at Prague’s Charles University, says the EU rules on biotech plants are the strictest in the world.

Jaroslav Drobník
“Politicians in Brussels follow voters’ concerns, and not rational arguments. I’m very curious how the vote on June 5 will turn out because EU votes on the issue reflect people’s concerns and never rational arguments for or against.”

Mr Drobník and his colleagues believe that genetically modified crops are safe, and are in fact better for the environment that conventional plants as they require smaller amounts of pesticides and herbicides. This makes them cheaper while at the same time, their yields are higher because fewer plants get damaged by pests. František Sehnal, the head of the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Bilogical Centre, even says that genetically modified plants could be the answer to the world food crisis.

“Food prices are fast increasing and so is the number of people dependant on food imports. We therefore need to increase food production. But the area of arable land is getting smaller, fuel costs are rising and the requirements for environmental protection are higher as we want to use less pesticides. What can we do? We have to come up with more productive crops, and the best way to do so, the fastest way and the only possible way today is genetic modification.”

Magdalena Klimovičová is an advisor for Greenpeace Czech Republic on GMO-related issues. She says that Czech scientists grossly underestimate the risks of biotech crops for the environment. Ms Klimovičová also thinks that the European Union should not change its strict GMO rules.

“I believe that Europe will become a model of sustainable practices in agriculture. It’s hard to predict what will happen in 20 years’ time as for the way Europeans feel, how picky they are about the quality of food and quality of life, we believe that the future lies in organic and sustainable farming.”

The official Czech position on GMO cultivation rules is to be determined next week at a meeting of Czech experts and ministry officials.