Bad seed rules threaten GE-free Europe

Europe must reject new proposal that would allow contamination

Feature story - 4 October, 2002
They're hoping you won't notice, but a decision that could open Europe to the Trojan horse of genetic contamination is being quietly rushed through the European Union (EU).

Corn grenade: the winning image from the Greenpeace Seeds of Trouble competition

The proposal, under the Standing Committee on Seeds, would allow 0.3 to 0.7 percent GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination of seeds, depending on the crop.

These numbers may sound small, but they would permit the release of seven billion GE (genetically engineered) maize and rape plants every year, enough to fill 45 thousand football fields.

This contamination would in fact be spread out over almost eight million hectares of European farmland, unmonitored and unidentified by the farmers growing it.

An initial vote on the proposed directives could take place in early November. But why is this issue of high public importance being decided by a small technical committee of agricultural bureaucrats behind closed doors? Why have European Parliament requests to involve elected MEPs in the decision-making been ignored?

The answer: because these new seed thresholds are at the request of Monsanto and the GE giants who cannot openly sell GE crops in Europe, and want to sneak them in instead.

Once allowed in, such pollution would be all but impossible to breed out again. Pure seed lines of conventional crops could be polluted in perpetuity.

"You just sort of surrender," said Don Westfall, pro-GE crop vice president of Promar International, a major US food industry consultancy. He also stated to a Canadian Newspaper that "the hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded that there's nothing you can do about it."

But surrender is not an option. Zero tolerance is the only correct attitude toward the potential consequences of GE pollution of conventional seeds, a message the EU is now hearing loud and clear from Greenpeace cyberactivists.

Why legislate "zero tolerance" for GE pollution? Too little is known about GE crops to be sure that they are safe for humans, animals or the environment. There is already serious concern about their role in the spread of antibiotic resistance genes, and the creation of super weeds, just two of many potential threats.

The proposed directives also spell economic disaster for organic farmers. Organic production does not accept GE contamination of crops. Europe's organic farmers could be forced to give up either their principles or their livelihood.

You wouldn't guess it from the new directive, but ample supplies of seeds with no detectable GE pollution exist (the lower threshold of pollution detectable by current tests is 0.1 percent contamination). With so much unpolluted seed available, it is pure folly for the EU to set this artificially high threshold.

EU agriculture ministers must refuse the bad seeds. They must instruct their officials not to allow any detectable contamination of seeds.

For more information:

Visit our cybercentre to send a message to your agriculture minister

Read about the winners of the Seeds of Trouble competition

Visit the Save Our Seeds website