By Myrto Pispini, Greenpeace Agriculture Campaigner.

Lately there has been media hype in Brussels regarding a new proposal by the European Commission aiming to solve a deadlock in the authorization of genetically engineered (GE) crops. The deadlock has been caused by the fact that member-states are divided in their opinion of GE crops in Europe. The majority are cautious about the release of GE crops into the environment. The main reasons are the possible negative impacts of GE crops on the environment, the health risks they may pose and the economic damage they can cause to farmers through contamination. Once GE plants are released they can contaminate the other crops in the field or after they are harvested via pollen, the wind, the soil, or by human error.

A few member states including Spain, the Netherlands, the UK and the Czech Republic however, are ignoring all these reasons and are ready to embrace genetic engineering. Into this equation we need to add that the majority of the European citizens reject GE products, and the big biotech companies, who have been investing billions of Euros over the last 20 years into the development of these products and want to profit from their investments

The Barroso Commission, which is determined to solve the deadlock, seems to have come up with the perfect plan. But should we trust the European Commission bearing gifts for member-states? The EU Commission via the Health Commissioner Mr. Dalli is offering the member-states who would like to ban GE in their territories the freedom to do it in exchange for them dropping any health and environmental concerns they have at the EU level and allow the commission to authorise new crops without argument.

Shall member-states accept this offer? Let’s look closely at the proposal.

To be or not to be: contaminated!

If some member-states ban GE crops while others start to cultivate them on a bigger scale, who will guarantee that contamination will not occur?

The recent scandal of GE seed contamination in Germany is yet more proof that contamination can happen and nobody can stop it. On the 6th of June, Greenpeace in Germany exposed how conventional maize seed, contaminated with illegal GE maize (NK603), had been sown on up to 2000 ha in Germany. The seed, which is traded by Pioneer Hi-Bred, was distributed to seven states. In all but one case the contamination was detected before the seeds were placed on the market and the companies withdrew the contaminated lots. But in one case (in Lower Saxony) officials did not act fast enough and the contaminated seeds were sold to farmers and consequently sown on the fields.

This is the biggest GE-seed scandal in Germany. Never before has so much contaminated seed been sown. If you still have doubts that GE contamination can happen visit the GE contamination register that constantly reports cases form all around the world.

Under the current EU law the European Commission is supposed to take decisions on the basis of assessments of the long-term health and environmental impacts of GE, taking into account the consequences they have on the environment in which they are supposed to grow as well as the social and economic impacts they have. This is still not happening. Nobody knows the longer-term impacts of these crops on our health and the environment, In December 2008, there was a unanimous call by all the European environment ministers to strengthen the way Europe assess the risks of GE products. The European Commission is yet to act on this.

Lastly, is the Commission proposal legally possible? In the words of a leading lawyer on EU affairs, Professor Ludwig Kramer, “The European Commission is not giving member states the right it claims to be giving them. It has restricted the terms of the agreement to such an extent that national decisions preventing GE cultivation would be an easy target for biotech companies looking to overturn them in the courts.” Citizens should be aware that in the next couple of weeks their governments could walk into a trap which will irreversibly change the face of European agriculture for the worse. Member States should not fall into the trap, but should reject this proposal. They should demand the strengthening of the European risk assessment and until this happens no GE crop should reach the fields or the market.

In the face of climate change, the food crisis and the economic crisis we should follow the recommendations of UN Agriculture Assessment (IASSTD) which says that the current model of agricultural production are no longer an option.

What we would like to receive from the European Commission is a proposal with real solutions to the dead-end of industrial polluting agriculture. This will entail a radical shift of the funding of science and technology towards ecological agriculture and will exclude outdated technological fixes such as genetic engineering.

Join Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Avaaz in calling for a moratorium on all GE crops in the EU. Demand a GE free future. We aim to collect 1 million signatures – is yours one yet? Sign the petition here.


Image: A Greenpeace volunteer hands out an anti-GE spoof cookbook to a passer-by. You can download the cookbook here.

© Philip Reynaers / Greenpeace