GE food: COMING SOON!?!?! - to a supermarket near you?

UPDATED: EU countries now taking action

Feature story - March 2, 2010
Just when we thought the threat to our environment couldn't get any worse after world leaders failed to secure a deal to save the climate in Copenhagen - we're now stunned to discover that the EU Commission is exploiting a 'backdoor' loophole to get genetically manipulated crops onto the supermarket shelves in the EU - and into our mouths.

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The European Commission has just authorised the cultivation of a genetically engineered crop for the first time since 1998.

Health Commissioner John Dalli, in agreement with EU President Barroso, used aprocedural move -- the so-called 'written procedure' -- to authorise a genetically engineered potato and thereby avoided a debate in the College of Commissioners. The genetically engineered potato (known as Amflora) has been developed by German agro-chemical company BASF.

Authorisation without a debate

It is widely accepted that GE crops pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, as well as to human and animal health. However, the Health Commissioner has literally forced the authorisation of this crop without even holding a debate with his fellow Commissioners. By hiding behind bureaucratic formalities the EU Commission is essentially force-feeding Europeans with products that they don't want. Such a decision is shocking and sets a dangerous precedent that the profit-driven agro-chemical companies will undoubtedly take advantage of.

UPDATE

March 4th, The shocking approval of the GE potato by Barroso'sCommission has been met with a wave of strong reactions among the EU member-states. The governments of Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary and France have publicly announced that they will not allow the cultivation of the GE potato in their countries. And various ministers have expressed their frustration with the decision of Barroso -- who is neglecting the unanimous call from the EU Environment Ministers Council to repair the system of authorisations of GE crops. German company Emsland, the second biggest starch producer worldwide, has also announced that they will not use the GE potatobe cause of the strong opposition against it.

What's the big deal?

The BASF GE potato contains a gene resistant to certain antibiotics. Releasing it into the environment could raise bacterial resistance to life-saving medicines, including drugs used for the treatment of tuberculosis. The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have warned about the critical importance of the antibiotics affected by the gene inserted into the Amflora potato. In this respect, the authorisation of BASF's GE potato breaches EU law. Since December 2004, it is forbidden to market crops with antibiotic resistant genes that could pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Barroso has been trying to force GE food onto the European market against the wishes of many member states and public opinion. He has allowed thousands of agro-chemicals to the markets without health or environmental safety tests.

It's not just about potatoes...

We have urgent concerns about the intention of President Barroso and Health Commissioner Dalli to authorise the cultivation of genetically engineered crops in Europe. Hot on the trails of the GE potato are three pesticide-producing maize varieties produced by Monsanto (MON810), Pioneer (Bt11) and Syngenta (1507) all awaiting authorisation.

GE crops cause many environmental problems. Most of them are created to resist high does of herbicides (developed and sold by the same companies that market the GE crop). Asa consequence weed populations become resistant to herbicides and farmers need to increase the amount of chemicals spread on fields. Apart from hitting farmers economically the chemicals could affect their health. And the increased usage of agro-chemicals has serious effect on insects that are naturally part of the eco systemand are an essential part of it.

Throwing the insect population out of balance could result in need of heavy use of insecticides to control them, adding to the chemical cocktail on our food, soils andwater. On top of that GE crops could sporadically spread and interbreed with non GE environments, contaminating and taking over farmer's crops. This sometimes creates 'monster plants' and gives farmers no other choice but to purchase GE seeds and the chemicals to grow them, fromagro-chemical giants like Monsanto or BASF. 

A-maize-ing in Mexico

In Mexico - our activists scaled a national monument and unfolded a massive banner in Guadalajara (see image above) - where an international conference started this week on agricultural biotechnologiesin developing countries. The banner called on the UN Food andAgriculture Organisation (FAO) to stop GE crops and protect maize.

We expect this conference to heavily promote the propaganda that GE is one of the tools needed to help developing countries out of hunger and poverty. This conference is taking place just as Mexico is about to unleash GE maize in experimental field trials. Mexico is the centre of origin and diversity for this staple crop. Cultivating GE maize here will irreversibly contaminate a centre of biodiversity.

Our office in Mexico is also contributing to the organisation of a parallel forum that is going to run during the FAO conference, with round tables on risks and alternatives to GE, movie showings, a demonstration and meetings with media and local celebrities who support ecological farming.

GE-free Germany

On Monday, over 500 of our activists from all over Germany ate a GE-free lunch at the Brandenburg Gate to protest the GE-friendly policies of the government. Even though most Germans object to genetically manipulated food, the government wants to promote GE agriculture, especially -- yes you've guessed it! -- the GE 'Amflora potato' from BASF. The banquet was setup so that the tables spelled out 'NEIN' (NO) when seen from above. According to a public poll in January, 79 percent of Germans oppose GE crops for cultivation because of the ecological risks. And they don't want to be 'guinea-pigs' for the GE industry.

Flogging a dead horse

In April 2008, the World Bank and several UN bodies concluded the Global Agricultural Assessment Report, the first-ever scientific assessment of global agriculture. It was compiled over four years by more than 400 scientists from around the world and signed by 58 governments. Contrary to the GE industry propaganda, this assessment sees no role for GE crops in eradicating hunger and ensuring food security. The future of agriculture lies in agroecological systems that create jobs and stimulate rural development, defend nature and people by protecting soil, water and climate, and promote biodiversity. Such farming systems ensure healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, and do not contaminate the environment with chemicals or genetic engineering.

European citizens mostly reject GE food and have done so consistently for almost 15 years. About 60 percent of the EU population oppose the use of GE crops in agriculture.In 2009 European farmers planted 11 percent fewer GE crops compared tothe previous year, due to higher prices and the low appeal of GE crops. The EU Comission is now by-passing proper procedures for GE authorisation.

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