First steps to European ban on genetically modified crop

Feature story - 2 February, 2004
In a great victory for all of us concerned about the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe, the Belgian government today refused permission to grow GM oilseed rape (known elsewhere as canola) in Europe. The EU-wide application from Bayer CropScience was rejected after research showed that it would damage the environment.

Most consumers don't want to rely on blind faith to know that what they eat is GM-free.

Belgian experts concluded that growing this GM oilseed rape would have negative impacts on biodiversity that could not be brought under control, and that guidelines for farmers to prevent contamination of non-GM crops are unworkable and difficult to monitor.

Their advice followed the largest GM field scale trials to date (in the UK), which concluded that growing GM oilseed rape would be worse for wildlife than growing the conventional crop. Other UK studies have also shown that insects can carry the pollen of oilseed rape over many kilometres, indicating that once planted, GM pollen would contaminate non-GM crops.

Such research underlines how immensely difficult, if not impossible, it would be to contain the cultivation of GM oilseed rape and protect non-genetically engineered farming. For consumers who want the right to choose clearly labelled non-GM products, crop contamination is a major issue.

Germany-based Bayer CropScience had applied through Belgium for a Europe-wide licence to grow the GM oilseed rape. However, 22 other GM applications are being pushed for approval in EU by the European Commission. Ten of them include cultivation. We believe all these applications should now be rejected locally by the governments considering them.

The news is not all good, however. While rejecting cultivation of GM oilseed rape, the Belgian Government approved the crop for import and processing in Europe. This part of the application will now be forwarded to other EU member states.

Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "GM oilseed rape will harm the environment and contaminate non-GM agriculture, whether it is grown in the EU or elsewhere in the world. It is inconsistent to ban the cultivation yet allow it for import. Protecting the environment by rejecting GMOs should be the first responsibility of every Government."

Consumers are to some extent protected from GMOs as many food manufacturers refuse to allow GMOs in their products. Although most European consumers have made it clear they don't want GMOs in their food, they will need to keep on actively rejecting such products.