June 4, 2003 -- CropChoice news: Spanish farmers,
alone in Europe, already grow gene-modified crops on
a commercial scale and would gladly plant more if U.S.
efforts force the European Union to ease restrictions
Crop specialist Jesus Rivera at the 300,000-strong
Spanish Young Farmers' Association said growers were
"dying" for GM cotton to be approved, which
requires spraying with herbicide or insecticide just
once or twice a year, compared with 10 or 12 times for
Spain is one of the EU's main producers, producing
about 300,000 tons of raw cotton a year.
"As it isn't a foodstuff, there are no commercial
problems. In fact, the EU already imports a lot of GM
cotton," Rivera said.
The United States, where biotech crops are common,
said on May 13 it would sue the EU at the World Trade
Organization unless Brussels ended a de facto moratorium
in place since 1998.
Although there is no evidence of harm from GM crops
-- engineered to resist pests or to withstand weedkiller
-- European consumers are edgy about such technology
after recent food scares.
Few EU governments have approved even varieties that
have received the green light in Brussels.
But there is no blanket EU ban on GM crops, only on
varieties seeking approval after the moratorium, and
Spanish farmers have for years been growing a variety
of maize designed to resist the corn borer pest, which
weakens maize stalks and stunts the growth of corn cobs
or eats its way through them.
GM maize on the increase
Approval by the Spanish government earlier this year
of five new commercial brands of so-called Bt maize
may allow areas currently being planted in GM maize
to double this year.
"Given increased availability, areas could reach
40,000 hectares this year, but no more than that,"
said Esteban Alcalde, regulatory manager for biotechnology
seed company Syngenta .
That compares with 20,000 hectares planted last year
out of a total of 460,000 sown to all maize in Spain,
and would be enough to produce some 400,000 tons of
Growers say they have no problems selling gene-spliced
maize to animal feed makers, which consume about 4.5
million tons of maize a year, although manufacturers
of starch for human consumption will only buy GM-free
But Bt maize is unlikely to be grown outside areas
affected by the corn borer, and a study commissioned
by industry lobby ANTAMA estimates that a maximum of
175,000 hectares could be sown to biotech maize.
Biotechnology industry sources say they have voluntarily
limited sales of GM seeds so far as they wish to introduce
the technology progressively.
The industry says an end to the EU moratorium could
also make quickly available GM sugar beet and rapeseed.
In the near future it expects GM wheat and barley and
possibly sunflower seed to be on the market.
However, farmers say sugar refiners would not currently
accept GM beet, and demand for rapeseed was seen as
limited in Spain, where just 10,000 tons a year are
Greenpeace condemns government
Environmental group Greenpeace condemned Spain's decision
to approve new brands of GM maize, saying the government
was out of step with its European partners and had no
means to protect conventional or organic crops from
GM opponents say genetic contamination is irreversible
and its as yet unknown effects need to be studied in
more detail. Greenpeace says the biotechnology is based
on a too simplistic model of how organisms transmit
Supporters of the technology say biotech crops might
benefit the environment as they require less pesticide
They also note Europe already imports large amounts
of GM soybeans and soymeal.
"Europe has little choice -- it grows almost no
soy," a grain dealer said.
Customs figures show Spain's biggest supplier of soybeans
is the United States, where 60 percent of all soy grown
is genetically modified.
"Most farmers think they should be allowed to
grow what is already imported," Rivera said.