European Commission exposes Member States to risks of genetically engineered crops

Press release - 15 February, 2005
Greenpeace today accused the European Commission of exposing EU Member States to the irreversible risks of genetically engineered (GE) crops and of undermining safety regulations within the EU.

While the Commission claims that Monsanto's GE maize (MON810) (1) has been monitored for environmental risks and that it meets the requirements under current EU legislation, Greenpeace investigations show that no comprehensive monitoring plan exists. Greenpeace calls for the EU Member States to take initiatives to stop the commercialisation of Monsanto's GE maize.

"The first time a GE variety is listed to the Common Catalogue and thus can be sold to farmers and can potentially be grown in many parts of Europe, the European Commission is misleading Member States," says Christoph Then, Greenpeace International GE campaigner. "How can they claim that Monsanto's GE maize is monitored sufficiently under current European legislations when simple investigations reveal that the only monitoring plan the EU refers to is nothing more than Monsanto's own monitoring from 1995."

Greenpeace obtained email correspondence between a journalist and Mrs Gminder, the then European Commission Spokeswoman for Health and Consumer Protection. After repeated request for the monitoring plan, as required to list a GE variety to the Common Catalogue, Gminder conceded that the monitoring plan was provided to the Member States under the old EU Directive - that required a far less extensive level of monitoring than the current Directive - claiming that there was an additional update. However, in a September 2004 press release the Commission explicitly states, that the monitoring plan provided by Monsanto fulfils all necessary requirements and was accepted by the Member States. But various requests to relevant authorities in Germany, Austria and Denmark revealed that no such updated monitoring plan exists (2).

MON810 GE Maize contains the so-called Bt-toxin (which normally only occurs in bacteria) that is intended to protect the maize plants against a specific corn borer. Monsanto's monitoring plan of 1995 only considers the issue of the possible emergence of resistance to Bt-toxin in European corn borer populations. But a significant number of scientific studies, published after 1995, show a broad range of other potentially harmful effects in GE plants, like accumulation of the toxin in soil and putting pressure on species like butterflies.

These revelations come as the parties to the World Trade Organization trade dispute over GMOs (3) are about to meet with scientific experts in Geneva. At the WTO, the European Commission has to defend the legal standards of the EU and the precautionary principle to be applied to GMO policy. "The European Commission must act in Brussels as it talks in Geneva. Otherwise the European safety policies will loose credibility. Europe must defend the environment and the consumers against the interests of multinationals like Monsanto. As long as the Commission does not act, Member States should take the lead and stop the commercialization of GE maize at their own initiative," argues Daniel Mittler, WTO expert of Greenpeace International.

Current EU legislation allows Member States to impose national bans on the import and growing of GMOs whenever new scientific evidence on potential risks occurs. Hungary already took that step and banned the cultivation of MON810 GE Maize in January. As the EU is still not capable of setting up sufficient criteria for GMO risk assessment, rules for coexistence and coherent regulation for monitoring, Greenpeace calls for a European wide initiative halting the cultivation of all GE plants.

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Notes: Notes:(1) The European Commission decided to put 17 varieties of GM maize MON810 on the EU Common Catalogue on seeds on 8th September 2004.(2) See backgrounder "Monitoring of genetically engineered crops: European Commission fails to protect EU Member States(3) See backgrounder "The assault on Biosafety - The WTO dispute on GMO's"Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force the solutions which are essential to a green and peaceful future.