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6 places where genetically engineered crops are banned

Workers harvest soybeans in a farm in Tangara da Serra in CuiabaWorkers harvest soybeans in a farm in Tangara da Serra in Cuiaba
Workers harvest soybeans in a farm in the city of Tangara da Serra in Cuiaba March 27, 2012. Nearly 94% of soybeans produced in the U.S. are genetically altered.Photograph by Paulo Whitaker — Reuters

Chipotle (CMG) has officially become one of the first major restaurant chains to erase genetically modified ingredients from its menus. GMOs, as they’re known, are a source of ongoing debate about their impact on human health.

A GMO is any food product whose genetic material has been tweaked using genetic engineering techniques. This can be done in animals, bacterial, plants and crops. The idea is that altering the DNA can make certain items stronger and more productive. For example, crops are modified to better resist drought, pesticides or insects.

GMOs are widespread. Up to 93% of corn, 94% of soybeans and 96% of cotton in the U.S. are genetically altered.

The safety debate rages between one group, which includes manufacturers like Monsanto (MON) and some farmers, that say these seeds are scientifically proven to be safe and are irreplaceable due to their hardiness. Others, like the Institute for Responsible Technology, say GMOs are dangerous to human health and lack much government regulation–at least in the U.S.

Many other countries and cities, however, have taken action to limit or altogether ban GMOs. Here’s a list of some of the growing number of areas that are limiting the reach of genetically engineered crops.

Russia

A combine harvester and a tractor with trailers work after sunset on a wheat field at the Solgonskoye farming company in the village of Solgon, southwest from Krasnoyarsk, September 6, 2014.

Russia banned GMOs last year and restricted their import for the next 10 years. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia has “enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.” Russian scientists urged the moratorium in order to thoroughly study GMOs’ effects on human health.

Tuscany, Italy

Landscape with cypress trees near San Quirico d’Orcia, Val d’Orcia Natural Artistic and Cultural Park.

Tuscany is one of nearly 30 Italian regions and cities that are against the cultivation of GMOs. The decision to restrict genetically altered crops is up to each local or regional council in the country. In the case of Tuscany, the decision to ban GMOs was ratified by the national government. Rome, Milan, Turin, Brescia and Genoa have all banned genetically engineered crops, as well.

Germany (and more EU states)

Germany has completely banned certain strains of genetically engineered seeds, including Novartis’ Bt maize and Monsanto’s MON 810 maize. While there isn’t an outright ban on every genetically altered crop nationwide, Germany stopped commercially cultivating GMOs in 2012.

Other EU nations that have partially or fully restricted GMOs include Austria, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece and Spain. Until January, there was an EU-wide ban on GMOs. That restriction was lifted in favor of allowing national governments to decide on their own restrictions.

Philippines

A farmer sprays pesticide on a rice field as the sun sets in the super Typhoon Haiyan stricken town of Santa Fe, in Leyte province, central Philippines on February 17, 2014.

The Philippines Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that all genetically modified eggplants, known as Bt talong, are banned from cultivation. While the vegetable never made it to large-scale production, the trials were halted and the plants destroyed. Not long after, nearly 400 protestors smashed the fences around a field in the Bicol region and uprooted genetically modified rice plants. The incidents reveal that the debate over GMO crops has moved beyond first-world nations.

Saudi Arabia

A general view taken from an airplane on September 11, 2014 shows cultured farms in northern Saudi Arabia.

Since 2001, Saudi Arabia has labeled food products that contain more than 0.9% genetically engineered ingredients. Three years later, it went on to ban imports of genetically altered seeds. That means the country doesn’t grow any of its own GMO crops, though does allow imports as long as they are properly labeled.

Tasmania, Australia

Ecological agriculture in Western Australia.

The island state off the southern coast of Australia indefinitely extended its moratorium on genetically modified crops at the beginning of last year. It is the only Australian state to have a blanket ban on GMOs, though it does allow exemptions for certain scientific trials of modified crops. Other areas, including South Australia, have short-term bans or restrictions on GMOs.