Thursday, July 9, 2009

GMO Moratorium : The Way Forward for Europe (or the Battle for What Is on Your Plate)



For over a decade the cultivation of crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been a highly controversial issue in Europe. GMOs can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination. The issue is so controversial because modern biotechnology uses genetic engineering as a technique to isolate genes from one organism and after manipulation inject them into another related or non-related organism. One of the world's leading producers of genetic engineered seeds is Monsanto, notorious for its aggressive litigation, intimidation and political lobbying practices.

Recently the question of allowing cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe hit the news lines again. To name a few news stories: a
meeting of EU biotech experts on the introduction of two new varieties of GM-maize ended in deadlock; EU environment ministers calling for a review of EU GMO approval laws and better, long-term safety assessments; attempts by the European Commission to lift bans in Member States using the safeguard clause of Directive 2001/18/EC were blocked by EU environment ministers; a rapid increase in GMO-free regions in Europe; a 5th Conference of GM-free regions which took place in Lucerne, Switzerland.

By contrast with the United States, the European Union (EU) has taken a far more cautious and strict approach to GMO crop cultivation, in the main, because public opinion, backed by many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is not favourable on biotechnology. There is widespread doubt about the usefulness and benefits; an unwillingness to consume GM foods and concern for the potential risks for food safety and environment. In this respect the Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser and Golden Rice cases show that this concern is not completely unfounded. In the wake of the BSE (mad cow) crisis there is also a distrust of scientific research, which in turn is not helped by disagreement among scientists. Other issues are biopiracy and the ethics of patenting living materials.

In order to ensure that biotechnological GMO developments are completely safe the European Union has established a legal framework comprising various acts:

- Directive 90/219/EC regulating contained (in a confined environment) use of GMOs.
- Directive 2001/18/EC (amended by Regulation (EC) 1830/200) regulating the introduction of GMOs into the environment for experimental purposes (mainly part B thereof) and the placing on the market of products containing or consisting of GMOs (mainly part C thereof)
- Regulation (EC) 1829/2003 regulating the placing on the market of GMOs intended for food or feed and products of food or feed containing, consisting of, or produced from GMOs.
- Regulation (EC) 1946/2003 regulating transboundary movements of GMOs between Member States and exports of GMOs to third countries.
- Regulation (EC) 1830/2003 regulating labeling and traceability requirements of GMOs and food products derived from GMOs which are introduced on the market.

In December 2008, the EU Council of Environment Ministers unanimously agreed that the present legislation on GMOs required a thorough revision with respect to long-term risk assessment, and should take into account socio-economic aspects. There was also agreement that the present procedure of imposing the cultivation of GMOs on regions and nations is untenable.

On 30 June 2009 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), published a report on a renewal of a cultivation license of MON810, which is a genetically modified insect resistant maize developed by Monsanto [
Summary of scientific opinion]. MON810 is the only genetically modified crop plant species commercially grown in Europe and is used for animal feed. Although EFSA is not able to determine the long-term impact of GM crops, it deemed MON810 just as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health. If granted the European Commission, which supports use of the maize, will once again collide with Member States who oppose the use. Increasing numbers of Member States oppose the use - Germany is the latest to join the ranks of Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania, who are embracing organic agriculture and introduced legislation banning the cultivation of MON810. Monsanto has since filed a lawsuit against the German government to have the ban suspended, but the case was rejected, because, as, according to the court, a preliminary assessment showed that the plant raises a potential danger. The law does not require a scientific finding that shows a danger for the environment beyond doubt. It is enough that new or additional information indicates that humans or animals may be hurt. The ruling is preliminary and the judges will further examine the case before issuing a final verdict.

The battle for the introduction of GMOs into the EU is starting to reach a critical point with the vast majority of the population of the Member States and NGOs wanting to be free from exposure to GMOs in their food and environment and a pro-GM European Commission headed by Jose Manuel Barroso trying to enforce the issue in favour of the Biotech industry. Robert Urquhart Collins expresses this in his article 'GM Crops : The European Context and Legal Precedents from Canada' [third paragraph] as "a development of a process that has been dubbed 'post democracy'; that is, rule by an unelected elite that places the interests of economically significant lobby-groups above those of the electorate that it is supposed to serve".
Instead of keeping it simple for both the European consumer and the farmer by opting for a GMO moratorium and living with the possible international trade retaliation consequences, the European Commission's pro-GM actions will burden them with numerous contentious issus ranging from gene transfer, organic crop contaminations, unauthorized GMO cultivation, liability questions between farmers or between farmers and biotech companies, risks for food safety, human health, animal welfare and the environment, unpredictable or reduced yields, etc. One thing is almost certain, sooner or later it will ensure that the days of GMO-free farming and freedom of choice are numbered. As Simonetta Sommaruga (Member of the Swiss Council of States) quite rightly puts it: "Agriculture should fit the market, the needs of the consumer, sustainability means good for the environment, and animal rights."


Useful links:
- Robert Urquhart Collins : GM Crops : The European Context and Legal Precedents from Canada
- European commission : Communication on the use of the Precautionary Principle

- European Commission : Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Coexistence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Farming. COM(2009) 153 final. [Annex] ; [Summary]
-
GM Science Exposed : Hazards Ignored, Fraud, Regulatory Sham, Violation of Farmers' Rights
. A comprehensive dossier containing more than 160 fully referenced articles from the Science in Society archives presented to the European Parliament 12 June 2007.

- Liability and Compensation Schemes for Damage Resulting from the Presence of Genetically Modified Organisms in Non-GM Crops / ed. by Bernard A. Koch. [S.l.] : Research Unit for European Tort Law of the Austrian Academy of Sciences [etc.], 2007
- Yolanda Ziaka :
The "Imparative of Responsibility" According to Hans Jonas

Peace Palace Library Catalogue References:
- Elena Acuti :
EU Food Safety Policy and Public Debate In: The Search for a European Identity : Values, Policies and Legitimacy of the European Union / ed. by Furio Cerutti and Sonia Lucarelli. Abingdon [etc.] : Routledge, 2008.

- Kathryn Garforth and Paige Ainslie : When Worlds Collide : Biotechnology Meets Organic Farming in Hoffman v Monsanto. Journal of Environmental Law, 18(2006, No.3), p.459-477
- Alison Peck : The New Imperialism : Toward an Advocacy Strategy for GMO Accountability. The Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, 21(2008, No. 1), p.37-72
- Mark A. Pollack and Gregory C. Shaffer :
When cooperation fails : the international law and politics of genetically modified foods. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2009
- Elsa Tsioumani :
Genetically Modified Organisms in the EU : Public Attitudes and Regulatory Developments. RECIEL, 13(2004, No.3), p.279-288








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