The European Union will be unable to meet increased demands for food and crops in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way without its changing policy with regard to genetically modified crops, according to a group of European academics.
The researchers warn that Europe will not be able to meet its goals in agricultural policy without embracing genetically modified (GM) crops.
Writing in Trends in Plant Science, the group of Spanish and British suggest that the EU is undermining its own competitiveness in the agricultural sector to its own detriment and that of its humanitarian activities in the developing world.
"Many aspects of the EU agricultural policy, including those concerning GMOs, are internally inconsistent and actively obstruct what the policy sets out to achieve," said Paul Christou of the University of Lleida-Agrotecnio Center and Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats in Spain.
"EU farmers are denied freedom of choice—in essence, they are prevented from competing because EU policies actively discriminate against those wishing to cultivate genetically engineered crops, yet exactly the same crops are approved for import," he said - adding that only a change in policy towards GMO production could help.
"We recommend the adoption of rational, science-based principles for the harmonisation of agricultural policies to prevent economic decline and lower standards of living across the continent," the authors suggest in their paper.
"Failing such a change, ultimately the EU will become almost entirely dependent on the outside world for food and feed and scientific progress," warned Christou.
"Ironically because the outside world has embraced the technology which is so unpopular in Europe, realising this is the only way to achieve sustainable agriculture."
The authors said that the European Union currently has too many policies that directly conflict with others. For instance, they noted that the Lisbon Strategy aims to create a knowledge-based bio-economy - and recognizes the potential of GMOs to deliver it.
However EU policy on the cultivation of GMOs has created an environment that makes this impossible, they argued.
In reality, Christou and his colleagues said that there is a 'de facto' moratorium in Europe when it comes to the cultivation of genetically engineered crops like maize, cotton, and soybean - even though the same products are imported because there is insufficient capacity to produce them by conventional means at home.
The EU has also banned its farmers from using many pesticides and restricted them from other nonchemical methods of pest control, while allowing food products produced in the same ways to be imported, they team added.
All this, Christou suggested, despite the fact that GMOs must pass stringent safety tests and there has been no evidence of harm or health risks, despite more than 15 years of GMO agriculture around the world.