Debate over GMOs rages on in Europe
Over 300 scientists and green lobby groups in Spain have signed a petition calling on their government to ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The signatories, made up of scientists from Spanish universities and research centres, including the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and green groups, denounced the 'dangers and impacts of the introduction [of GM crops] into the environment and on our plates' and demanded that the Spanish government adopt measures to eradicate the cultures on its territory.
'This is a technology that is destroying biodiversity and was a by-product of the military industry. It is lamentable that Spain is acting as a vector for introducing these cultures into Europe when it is a country rich in biodiversity,' Eugenio Reyes, a researcher at the Botanical Garden of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, told El Mundo newspaper.
Spain currently grows 75,000 hectares of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), making it Europe's largest grower in Europe, followed by France with 22,000 hectares.
The petition comes only days after France decided to invoke an EU safeguard clause to bar a strain of GM maize after a watchdog said it had doubts about the product.
The crop in question, MON 810, is a variety of maize developed by US biotech giant Monsanto. The strain has had its genome modified to contain a gene that produces a toxin allowing it to defend itself against the corn borer, which regularly destroys maize harvests around Europe.
The decision came after France's provisional High Authority on GMOs presented the conclusions of its study on the effect of the MON 810 crop on health and the environment. The committee, composed of 15 scientific experts, announced that it had 'serious doubts' about GM crops following its discovery of 'new scientific facts relating to a negative impact on flora and fauna'.
These 'new scientific facts' included cross-pollination of GM and non-GM fields at local level and negative effects on insects, a species of earthworm and micro-organisms.
However, the next day saw 12 of the High Authority's 15 scientists disagree with the Authority's conclusions, saying they never found evidence for serious doubts or negative consequences concerning GM crops and thus criticised the way the conclusions were worded.
Under EU law, the Commission has 60 days to decide on the validity of the new scientific evidence discovered by the French committee on GMOs. If the Commission does not consider the evidence produced to be valid, it can force the country to lift its ban, unless a qualified majority against such a decision is reached in the Council of Ministers.
Austria, Germany and Poland have previously invoked the safeguard clause without success, as the Commission has never substantiated their applications. Moreover, EU environment ministers have repeatedly failed to reach a qualified majority for or against the Commission's proposals to lift the national bans.
In October 2007, Portuguese Environment Minister Francisco Nunes Correia said that a majority of Member States oppose the Commission forcing them to lift such bans. He added that 'the Commission proposal still prevails against the explicit will of one Member State and that is something that has to give us a pause for thought.'
The next step will be for all the Commissioners to debate GMOs in early February 2008 to clarify the EU's policy position on the issue.
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Document Reference: Based on information from press sources (El Mundo, Le Monde, BBC) Subject Index: Agricultural biotechnology ; Agriculture; Biotechnology; Legislation, Regulations; Policies