According to officials at the United Nations, the world’s population will grow 30 percent in the next three decades to exceed 9 billion. And they say farmers will need new technologies to produce more food from less land, with fewer hands. One of those new technologies is genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, seeds which have been designed to resist specific pests and herbicides.
The use of GMOs has not been without controversy. Farmers in the United States and Brazil lead the world in the use of genetically modified seeds. But in the European Union – where nearly 40 types of GMOs have been approved – the road to the introduction of new varieties is full of legal roadblocks.
And each member country can decide to put an outright ban in place. But one farmer is fighting local laws to plant his seed of choice.
After years of negative public opinion in the European Union regarding genetically modified crops, Italy officially banned Monsanto’s MON 810 maize last year, citing risks to biodiversity. But according to EU policy, sowing the controversial seeds is still permitted.
In 2010, the European Commission announced it would allow the 28 member nations to have the final word on cultivation of genetically altered seeds within their own borders. But some farmers in Italy’s corn belt say the larger EU legislation gives them the right to plant approved genetically modified seeds, despite local laws to the contrary.
Giorgio Fidenato/Italian Farmer: "I want to use biotechnology, because I want to feed myself and my family with GMOs, because I think they are healthier and more nutritious."
At the center of a political battle are seven acres of Giorgio Fidenato’s GMO corn in Italy’s northern region of Friuli. Fidento claims growing GMO corn is simply good business, especially for feeding animals.
While Italy outlaws the cultivation of genetically modified organisms, it does import GMO corn and soybeans for use in livestock production. Some Italian cattle ranchers agree with Fidenato, and cite the favorable economics of growing GMO crops for animal feed in their own fields.
Over the past four years, the Italian government has twice confiscated Mon 810 GMO crops from Fidenato’s fields, and charged him in local, regional and federal courts. Last month, the Administrative Court of Rome declared that the farmer from Friuli is illegally planting GMOs in Italian soil.
But that farmer refuses to back down, claiming Italy’s political and judicial system is distorting European law. And as he continues to farm defiantly, Fidenato is appealing the court’s decision with the help of donations from sympathetic farmers. He claims that over 400 other local producers would like to grow GMO corn, but fear the consequences…
GMO opponents in Italy are angry, organized, and in some cases, equally prepared to take the law into their own hands. The activist group Greenpeace snipped buds and interfered with the pollination of Fidenato’s GMO crops in 2010. The organization claims current research is insufficient to show genetically altered seeds are not harmful to the environment.
And the legal battle could soon finds its way back into the European Parliament as Italy assumes the six month presidency of the EU in July.