EU Commission and Agricultural Ministers asked to stop license to contaminate Europe with genetically engineered crops

Press release - 14 October, 2002

Benedikt Haerlin (left) on behalf of the petition from the foundation for FUTURE FARMING hands over the petition signed by 300 European environmental, farmer and consumer organisations

A delegation representing over 300 European environmental, farmer and consumer organisations with more than 25 million members today handed a petition entitled "SOS Save our Seeds" to EU Commissioners Franz Fischler (Agriculture) and David Byrne (Consumer Protection) demanding the new EU Seed Directive to guarantee the purity of seeds sold and planted in Europe instead of tolerating any levels of genetic contamination in them. (1)

The groups warned that if the Seed Directive is passed as the EU Commission currently proposes - allowing between 0,3 and 0,7 percent of genetically modified organisms in conventional seeds without GE labelling - this would result in a large scale growing of genetically engineered (GE) crops in European fields. Approximately 7000 million GE seeds would be planted every year by farmers (2) without them having the possibility to know and to avoid such unwanted planting of GE crops.

"The EU Commission is about to give the GE companies a license to contaminate European agriculture even as this industry has failed miserably to convince anybody about their GE products", said Benedikt Haerlin, one of the Petition organisers. "This is a slap in the face of 70 percent of consumers and a similar majority of farmers in Europe who reject GE in their food and in their seeds. It would cost farmers, food processors and retailers millions of Euro just to serve the interests of a few transnational GE companies."

Despite its far reaching consequences, the Seed Directive is still being handled as a routine technical matter involving only a small EU Standing Committee of Seed Experts, but not the EU Council or the Parliament. Agricultural ministers and the European Parliament only recently seemed to wake up to the vast implications of the proposed Directive. The Commission has promised to redraft the Directive, but has so far refused to lower the proposed thresholds for GE contamination in seeds. This would mean, as Lorenzo Consoli of Greenpeace put it, "flooding European fields with GMOs through the backdoor".

The EU Scientific Advisory Committee estimates that if the Seed Directive is passed as drafted the genetic contamination in food and feed will increase substantially, somewhat below the threshold level of one percent, above which labelling of food is mandatory. However, the experts admit that no reliable prediction can be made in the absence of solid data and that the one percent threshold may well be exceeded under certain conditions. Obviously a new threshold level of 0,5 percent in food and feed, proposed by the European Parliament would be unachievable at this level of seed contamination.

"Farmers have the right to know and to decide what they plant," said Alois Marx of Coordination Paysanne Européenne, the European family farmers association. "Who will pay for our losses if we can't deliver non-GE products anymore? Who will cover the costs of additional measures, tests and insurance which all conventional and organic farmers will suddenly be required to take, in order to prove their non-GMO status?"

Representatives of the European Seed and GE Industry demand even higher contamination allowances in conventional seeds and claim "zero tolerance" was impossible in the future. However, seed tests conducted by EU member states prove that contamination problems are still minimal and that seed contamination can be avoided even in the US. (3)

Download the background document Save our Seeds!(pdf file, 12 pages, 110k)

Download the tables showing how many GE plants could be released as seed contamination under the EU proposals:

Table 1 - Immediate Impact of Proposed GE Seed Contamination Directive on European Arable Land

Table 2 - Impact of Proposed GE Seed Contamination Directive on Arable Land of EU Accession States Upon Enlargement

Table 3 - A worst-case scenario for impact of proposed GE Seed Contamination Directive on EU Arable Land

VVPR info: Photos available from Greenpeace International Photo Desk, John Novis, Mob: +31653819121

Notes: (1) For all details, Signatories also include over 70.000 individuals from 15 countries.(2) Oilseed rape (~ 500.000 seeds per hectare) is grown on roughly 3 million hectares, maize (~100.000 seeds per ha) on approximately 4,5 mio hectares within the EU. The figures assume 0,3% and 0,5% contamination respectively. Beet, cotton, potatoes and tomato not included in this calculation yet. See table attached.(3) In Austria a Seed Regulation which prohibits any GMO contamination of seeds has been in force for one year with no problems of compliance.