GMO discussion paper

The approach of the Finnish Greens to GMO methods

June 2017

This discussion paper was requested by the party congress of the Finnish Greens. It contains the main lines of discussion carried out in May 2017 among a variety of representatives of the Finnish Green Party. Largely, a consensus was reached on the issues.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO), the related techniques and their employment are not separate from other phenomena in the world. They are tightly connected to the larger phenomena changing our food system. Rapidly changing climate and biodiversity collapse have already altered and will further change the basis of our food system. They will pose enormous challenges for humanity.

In the debate on GMO technology, the role of the actual techniques is sometimes overemphasized. It would be essential to view things at the food system level. In this paper, we have been requested to confine ourselves to the GMO issue, although in the face of major global challenges, even those of us most positive about GMO technology only see it as a part of some solutions.

GMO technology is one breeding method among others. It is useful to acknowledge that the line between GMO methods and other breeding methods has significantly blurred. There is debate around the world about exactly where the boundary lies. From the point of view of opportunities and threats of the methods, classification to, for example, GMO products and non-GMO products is not meaningful. However, in its current state, regulation renders such boundaries relevant.

Up until now, GMO techniques have generally been used against the principles of sustainable development. Even though the technology could be used for much good, such as creating more nutritious plants that grow in difficult conditions, much of its use has narrowly focused on commercial goals. Instead of redeeming the great promises made, the field has concentrated on breeding species more tolerant to pesticides, and the technology has only reduced species diversity.

Nevertheless, this does not need to be the case in the future. GMO techniques could be used responsibly, for instance, to reduce the chemical burden of agriculture, provided that appropriate conditions are created, and adequately tight criteria e.g. on safeguarding biodiversity is applied. The threats and opportunities of GMO techniques are principally the same.

The technology enables organisms to be modified faster than other breeding methods. This allows for quicker adaptation to, for example, a changing climate. On the other hand, the speed of change may make evaluating and anticipating all the impacts difficult.

The biggest threats from GMO technology are related to the weakening of natural diversity as well as the diversity of farming systems. Therefore, from the point of view of the risks of GMO technology, it matters how our environment is doing otherwise. The use of GMO products has not been found to be harmful to health. Even so, product-specific research will still be needed for any new products.

GMO products cause concern in some people. Consumers must be able to obtain extensive information on the origin of their food. Radical transparency must, however, apply to the whole food chain, not only the production method. For instance, information on nutritional content, health impacts, biodiversity and climate impacts of the methods used should all be available to consumers.

GMO-related research and experimental cultivation are necessary to enable informed decision making on these issues. Only independent research can tell us about the safety of GMO varieties from different perspectives. Here, Finnish research is currently of high quality, but insufficient. We are not opposed to research collaboration with business. Nevertheless, resources must be found for independent research as well. This is also important for a functioning system of control. There are a number of views in the Finnish Green Party on how to prioritize different areas of research. These were not extensively discussed.

Suggested measures:

  1. The food system should be considered as a whole and its sustainability should be ensured. Regulatory control should specifically be aimed at safeguarding biodiversity.
  2. The regulation of breeding methods should be harmonized so that all methods are subject to monitoring requirements, e.g. in relation to human health and environmental sustainability.
  3. It is also essential to focus on the motivations for breeding. We support breeding methods that are aligned with sustainable development goals.
  4. Good independent research on GMO technology must be supported in Finland and worldwide.
  5. As studies and experiments are always of limited duration, the use of genetically modified species and their various impacts must be closely monitored in the longer term as well.
  6. In order to ensure high quality and independent research, those benefiting financially from patents on species could be asked to provide additional funding for the required monitoring.