EU, Greenpeace row over safety of GM food

The European Union Commission stressed on Thursday that health and environmental factors were foremost in approving genetically modified foodstuffs, while protesting farmers and environmentalists called for an outright ban.

“GMOs [genetically modified organisms] are one of the most sensitive dossiers on my desk,” EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said during a meeting with farmers organised by Greenpeace in front of the Brussels headquarters of the commission.

“Our priority is to make sure when we authorise [GMOs] that there is no risk for people, animals and environment,” she added.

Greenpeace’s EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero was unimpressed as he handed over a 180 000-signature petition calling on the EU executive to stop the authorisation of GM rice made by German pharmaeutical giant Bayer.

“Farmers are rejecting GM crops and are turning to ecological farming. They do not want to be at the mercy of bullying multinationals that are threatening to take control of our food,” said Contiero.

“If the commission authorises the import of Bayer’s rice and other GM crops, the world’s major staple foods will be at risk,” he added.

Spanish farmer Eduardo Campayo Garcia told Vassiliou how he was forced to abandon growing maize as his fields in central Castilla had been contaminated by GMO crops, meaning he lost his biofood label.

“When we discovered the contamination we looked for the origin and found nothing within a 500m radius, which shows that the pollen travels distances much longer than we have been told,” he said.

Spain is the largest producer of GM maize in the EU, with about 80 000ha under cultivation.

“We are losing our biodiversity. Help us maintain it,” Campayo pleaded.

Next Monday the European Commission will ask EU farm ministers to authorise trade in several varieties of GM maize.

But most of the 27 EU nations are opposed to GMOs because of risks to the environment and of the kind of cross-pollination of which the Spanish farmer, and others, have complained.

They have been calling for the EU’s agreement on authorising such crops, and the evaluation methods used by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to be beefed up, notably to put more emphasis on the risks of cross-pollination.

Only a handful of genetically modified crops have been approved for cultivation in the European Union, but of them only Monsanto’s MON810 maize, approved in 1998, is so far being grown.

The MON810 case has become a source of transatlantic friction.
The United States has warned Europe against using environmental issues as an excuse for protectionism.

Six European countries—Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg—had adopted safeguard clauses to ban its cultivation on their territory.—AFP

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