Called by some a wonder of biotechnology and by others a ticking time bomb for our health and ecology, since their launch in the 1990s, GMOs have roused great passions and intrigue.
If we modify plants genetically, it is to give them new characteristics, such as to make them more resistant to weedkillers or insects.
Some 30 varieties are authorised for sale in the EU — of cotton, maize, colza, soy, sugar beet and potato — but there are only two that may be grown in the EU. They are MON810 maize, by Monsanto, made to stand up to ravenous insects, and intended for animal feed, and the Amflora potato by BASF, for its high starch yield for use in the paper industry.
These GMOs are key targets for critics and general unease among Europeans. Several EU states, therefore, invoked a safeguard clause or national decrees to prevent their cultivation on their territories.
Only six EU countries allow MON810 to be grown in their soil, Spain the most, with 76,000 hectares of the maize. The Amflora potato is just getting going, in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany.
There are colossal financial stakes in biotechnology.
Six companies dominate the market: three American, two German and one Swiss.
They sell the seed grain, in a world market worth 10.5 billion dollars. This is 30 percent of all commercial crop seed.
In 2006, the World Trade Organisation upped the pressure on the EU because it was so discordant on the matter. Brussels then decided to reorganise, in order to end inter-EU arguing. That, however, could open the gates to a great many challenges in the courts.