Ukraine and Russia to be Europe’s GM springboard

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

GM crops could become widespread in Europe after gaining a foothold in the Ukraine and Russia
GM crops could become widespread in Europe after gaining a foothold in the Ukraine and Russia

Related tags: Gm crops, Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organism

Ukraine and Russia are likely to become the bridgehead for the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the rest of Europe, according to the ceo of the French agricultural seeds and grain co-operative Limagrain.

Speaking at the company’s research centre at Chappes near Clermont-Ferrand on Tuesday (June 1), Daniel Chéron said that while GMO maize was being adopted widely around the globe, Ukraine and Russia would lead its introduction in Europe.

“With corn ​[maize] all the different markets in the world will increase their production with GMOs,”​ said Chéron. He noted that GM crops were already being grown extensively around the world in regions such as North and South America and South Africa, and suggested that various southern Asian countries would be growing them too soon.

“My feeling is that in the Ukraine and Russia, sooner or later we will also have GMO. In the eastern countries of Europe, sooner or later, we will also have GMO,”​ he added.

4Mha of GM crops in Ukraine

About 4M hectares (4Mha) of various GM crops could be under unofficial cultivation in the Ukraine, another senior Limagrain source told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

Other sources at the event, organised to celebrate Limagrain’s 50th anniversary, suggested the 4Mha figure was a gross underestimate.

“The question is, will France, Germany and, England use these technologies? We will be a museum in the long run​ [if we don’t],” said Chéron. “I cannot imagine that we will stay out of GMOs, although this is only one technology among a lot of technologies​ [for improving the properties of crops].

“I cannot imagine that we will not make use of the same tools as our main competitors, otherwise we will have a real handicap for farmers. We are now seeing worldwide production and all farmers are in competition. To stay in the race, you need to have the same tools.”

Currently there is widespread resistance among green groups and politicians to allowing GM crops to be grown in the EU. But many scientists and farmers believe the technology is an essential part of the toolbox needed to meet the challenges of a growing global population and climate change.

Only GM crop

To date, MON 810, a GM maize, is the only GM crop commercially permitted to be grown in the EU, although scientific GM field trials are allowed. However, a recent trial carried out by the UK Rothamsted Research Centre on a supposedly aphid-resistant GM wheat variety proved to be unsuccessful.

The failure further fuelled the arguments made by the non-governmental organisations, such as GeneWatch, against GM technology.

Chéron recognised that GM wheat posed more problems than the introduction of GM maize, not least because of its more complex genome. He thought it unlikely that GM wheat products would appear on the market before 2025. “The first country developing GMO wheat will be China,” ​he suggested. This was likely to be because of the centralised control it exerts over strategic decision making.

Limagrain is using advanced genetics for seed selection and processing technologies – including GM, combined with the latest computer algorithms and analytical techniques to develop new strains of GM maize and wheat that have specific properties, such as drought, saline and pest resistance.

  • Rick Pendrous was reporting from Clermont-Ferrand, France.

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