BRUSSELS – A proposal that Europe’s top environment official made last month, to ban the planting of a genetically modified corn strain, sets up a bitter war within the European Union, where politicians have done their best to dance around the issue.
The environmental commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said he had based his decision squarely on scientific studies suggesting that long-term uncertainties and risks remain in planting the so-called Bt corn. But when the full European Commission takes up the matter in the next couple of months, commissioners will have to decide what mix of science, politics and trade to apply. And they will face the ambiguous limits of science when it is applied to public policy.
For a decade, the European Union has maintained itself as the last big swath of land that is mostly free of genetically modified organisms, largely by sidestepping tough questions. It kept a moratorium on the planting of crops made from genetically altered seeds while making promises of further scientific studies.
But Europe has been under increasing pressure from the World Trade Organization and the United States, which contend that there is plenty of research to show such products do not harm the environment. Therefore, they insist, normal trade rules must apply.
Science does not provide a definitive answer to the question of safety, experts say, just as science could not determine beyond a doubt how computer clocks would fare at the turn of the millennium.
“Science is being utterly abused by all sides for nonscientific purposes,” said Benedikt Haerlin, head of Save Our Seeds, an environmental group in Berlin and a former member of the European Parliament. “The illusion that science will answer this overburdens it completely.” He added, “It would be helpful if all sides could be frank about their social, political and economic agendas.”
Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/26/business/world