22 October 2002
EUROPEAN UNION REMAINS GM-FREE/EU NOT BUDGING ON BIOTECH
If you live in Europe please join the cyberaction on GE seeds and sent letters to your national Agriculture minister asking them not to accept GE contamination in our seeds : go to http://act.greenpeace.org
1. EU not budging on biotech
2. European Union remains GM-free - Farmers Weekly
1. EU not budging on biotech
by Robert Schubert
Editor's note: Due to problems with the CropChoice mail server, I couldn't send this package of stories last Friday, October 18th. Please see links to the four other great items on CropChoice at the end of this commentary. Sorry for the delay. -- RS
(Friday, Oct. 18, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- The U.S.-backed agribusiness and biotechnology industry needn't hold its breath about feeding gene-spliced food to the Europeans anytime soon. Reports of the death of the four-year-old moratorium on such products have been greatly exaggerated.
Charles Goerens of Luxembourg, told the press yesterday, after a meeting of his fellow European Union environment ministers, that as long as traceability, labeling and liability remain unaddressed, the moratorium stays.
Still, the media were abuzz for days prior with reports of the new EU regulations on the release of genetically modified organisms that began yesterday. There's one catch. The individual member states must still approve the underlying legislation (Deliberate Release Directive 2001/18).
Even if that were to happen, European sources inform me that the risk assessment standards are so strict that they would disqualify any present product applications. Proposed new rules will be so strict that many U.S. products, such as animal feed, will have to be labeled. So, not only will the moratorium remain, but loopholes that currently allow some engineered food to slip into Europe will be tighter, making it harder for U.S. agribusiness to sell products there.
Those rather important issues aside, it is, again, the members who will determine whether to approve or reject any new biotech food products. But the six-- France, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Greece and Luxembourg -- that played pivotal roles in launching and maintaining the moratorium still want the labeling and traceability laws in place before they'll budge.
Problem is, those conditions haven't been met. And there's also the issue of liability, which, Goerens statement aside, somehow got lost in all this. Who's going to take responsibility for transgenic contamination of organic and conventional food and crops?
Agriculture ministers, if they didn't understand this after reading the Soil Association report on the near impossibility of agricultural biotechnology co-existing with conventional and organic farming, certainly got the grassroots message on Monday. That's when 300 farm, consumer and environmental organizations, representing the interests of millions of people (i.e., not agribusiness corporations), went to the Luxembourg meeting of EU agriculture ministers to demand that laws require labeling of seed packages as genetically modified if PCR tests reveal transgenic organisms in more than 0.1 percent of a sample. This is the de facto standard used now, and seed companies are meeting it.
The proposed Seed Directive would allow for organic and conventional seed to contain more transgenic material than that -- anywhere from 0.3 to 0.7 percent depending on the plant type -- without being labeled. European farmers are understandably concerned that this could lead to them unwittingly sowing the seeds of genetic contamination of the food supply. Once sown, those seeds would sprout into plants that pass their transgenic traits into surrounding fields.
But these questions of the moratorium and whether or not it's lifted might make one forget that the Europeans do not want genetically modified food. Eighteen biotech seed varieties were approved before the moratorium began. Yet, only one of them is planted, in Spain.
Moratorium or not, the biotech industry likely will remain shut out of Europe for the foreseeable future.
Also on CropChoice:
1. How low can rural communities go?
2. Money behind the lies;
3. What is Monsanto doing to farmers? The case of Percy Schmeiser and its implications; http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=1050
4.Mr. Speaker, We can assure you that there 'is a problem';
2. European Union remains GM-free
18 October 2002
By Philip Clarke, Europe editor
GENETICALLY modified crops are to be kept off the European Union market, despite new legislation designed to free up approvals.
A new GM Directive, which came into effect on Thursday (17 October), requires a full environmental risk assessment before any GM release.
It also demands full consultation with all interested parties and compulsory monitoring during the trials and post-release stages.
Any license will only be granted for an initial 10-year period.
"The commission considers that it has fulfilled its commitment to create the conditions to restart the authorisation procedure for GMOs," said EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom.
"It is up to companies to decide what products they want to put on the market and to member states to initiate the procedure for authorization."
But that does not mean GM products may now be rolled out on to the market.
Even without the moratorium it would take at least a year for crops to clear the legislative hurdles.
With the moratorium in place, they would still be blocked from the market anyway.
Lifting the moratorium depends on EU environment ministers approving supplementary legislation on the labeling and traceability of GM crops.
These proposals, which seek mandatory labeling for any food containing more than 1% GMs, were discussed at an environment council in Luxembourg.
But agreement is a long way off, with a hard core of member states, led by France, wanting a lower threshold.
They also want labeling to apply to processed foods in which GM traces have been destroyed, and to animal products such as eggs and milk.
The delays were welcomed by green campaigners such as Geerts Retsima of Friends of the Earth.
"Even with tough labeling, major problems such as liability, seed purity and the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops need to be resolved before the moratorium is lifted."
But the USA is growing increasingly frustrated with the block on exports of a large proportion of its soya and maize crops.
A US trade representative insisted the ban was illegal.
He called for "an immediate, unconditional and unambiguous statement that the biotech approvals process is restarting now".
A moratorium on all new registrations has been in place since June 1999, effectively creating a GM-free zone in the EU.
Only a small amount of GM maize is currently grown, in Spain, thanks to an approval before the moratorium took hold.