The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that honey contaminated with pollen from a genetically engineered maize produced byMonsanto cannot be sold on the market. This means that if beekeepers keep beehives in areas where the genetically engineered crop is cultivated, they will have no hope of selling their products. The ruling will have a significant impact on the future of agricultural genetic engineering (GE) – and on beekeepers.
Some time ago, a bee in southern Germany came home with its feet sticky with pollen from the genetically engineered maize growing just 500 meters from its hive. Eventually the pollen was used in producing honey. The beekeeper noticed this contamination; and because he was a brave and honest man, he said that as long as the honey was GE contaminated, he could not sell it. He asked the owner of the field, the local government, for financial compensation for his lost earnings, but a German court asked the ECJ for advice. The ECJ said the honey is to be regarded as an unauthorised food product that contains genetically engineered ingredients.
Greenpeace believes that it has not been scientifically proven that food contaminated by genetically engineered organisms is not harmful to humans. What’s more, biodiversity and the environmental integrity of the world's food supply are far too important to be put at risk by experimenting with genetic engineering for commercial gain. However, farmers, and in this case, beekeepers must be compensated for their losses!
The ECJ’s ruling is a big win for those who do not want GE in their food, and strengthens Europe’s zero tolerance policy for GE without authorisation. But the main problem for the beekeepers is still unsolved: will they get compensation? The German court is expected to decide on the basis of the ECJ ruling.
In practice, the ECJ ruling means that no beekeeper can really go producing honey in an area where GE crops are grown. If a beekeeper has to ask for financial compensation every time his honey is contaminated, then his business will be jeopardized. The ECJ ruling clearly supports what Greenpeace has been saying for years - co-existence of genetically engineered and conventional agriculture simply does not work. GEs will sooner or later contaminate other areas of agriculture and if that happens, it means nothing less than the end to some areas of agriculture and the freedom of choice for those who want their food to be GE–free is at stake.
The ECJ ruling clearly supports what Greenpeace has been saying for years - co-existence of genetically engineered and conventional agriculture simply does not work. GEs will sooner or later contaminate other areas of agriculture and if that happens, it means nothing less than the end to some areas of agriculture and the freedom of choice for those who want their food to be GE–free is at stake.
The best thing governments can do to protect a diverse agriculture is to ban GEs from their territory. There are EU Member States that are willing to do that and have in fact already started. These are Austria, Greece, Hungary and Luxemburg. Germany has banned GM maize; Poland is rethinking its GE-legislation right now. In Italy, opposition from regional authorities makes GM cultivation impossible. On 8 September, the Court of Justice of the European Union challenged a French national ban on the cultivation of GM maize, arguing that France based its ban on the wrong legislation. Greenpeace is urging the France government to improve the legal details of its ban as soon as possible.
This blog was edited and updated on September 12, 2011.
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Photograph © Greenpeace / Pieter Boer