Be the Shepherd not the Sheep - Greenpeace Urges EU Ministers to Ban Genetic Contamination

Press release - 12 May, 2003

Highlighting the fact that the EU is facing a crucial decision about the future of its agriculture, Greenpeace today urged the European Union agriculture ministers to defend quality agriculture by banning genetic contamination. As an informal Agriculture Council meeting to discuss 'quality agriculture' was taking place on the island of Corfu, Greece, Greenpeace activists, holding flags of EU member states, presented the ministers with a cross-roads sign challenging them to choose quality as opposed to GE farming.

"The survival of uncontaminated conventional and organic farming in Europe is at stake. The ministers need to realise that the quality agriculture they claim to care about is now threatened by the Commission's unwillingness to firmly address the issue of genetic contamination by law. We're asking the ministers not to behave like sheep, silently following the Commission, but rather to be the shepherd, leading us to greener fields," said Eric Gall, Greenpeace EU Advisor.

The EU Commission is expected to propose guidelines concerning the so-called 'co-existence' issue before the summer. So far genetic contamination has been presented by Mr Fischler, Agriculture Commissioner, as an economic problem merely for organic and conventional farmers who seek to ensure their products remain GE-free. Instead of being covered by the GE industry, the cost of possible genetic contamination threatens to fall on everyone who wants to avoid GE contamination. (1)

Furthermore, the approach currently favoured by DG Agriculture would not give the member states a legal basis to take necessary measures to prevent contamination, including the establishment of GE-free zones. In practice the approach, welcomed by the Commission on March 5, would give GE producers a competitive advantage as farmers wanting to avoid GE would bear the costs. It would also deprive European consumers and farmers of the right to choose non-GE products as genetic contamination would soon become a fait accompli.

Greenpeace argues that only binding EU legislation, implementing the polluter pays principle and guaranteeing the purity of seeds, has a chance to give Europe the possibility to grow and use non-GE products. Greenpeace believes all stakeholders, including farmers, retailers, consumers and environmental groups, should be involved by the Commission on the 'co-existence' debate.

"Experience from countries where GE crops have been grown shows that the genetic contamination problem should not be underestimated (2). If the issue of co-existence is not tackled properly, Europe is about to allow a system where genetic polluters are favoured at the expense of those offering a better quality agriculture," said Eric Gall.

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Notes: 1) Study on co-existence, 2002, Joint Research Centre Should GE crops be planted on a commercial scale in Europe, the measures to avoid contamination could substantially increase the final cost of conventional and organic products. The EU Joint Research Centre has calculated, for instance, an increase in costs as high as 41% for oilseed rape seed production, and 9% for maize production. EU legislation is necessary to establish the principle that those extra costs must be borne by the GMO growers responsible for the contamination. 2) In Canada, for instance, the impossibility to find uncontaminated oil seed rape seeds led organic farmers to launch a class action in January 2002 against Monsanto and Aventis in order to have their liability acknowledged for loss of market.