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9-Misc: Slovenia steps up genetic debate

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SOURCE: Irish Examiner, posted at:
DATE:   Jul 10, 2003

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George Bush wants Europe's farmers and consumers to accept genetically
modified food and crops. Given his proven ability to 'persuade' the rest
of the world to accept the US point of view on global matters those who
see potential dangers in the spread of biotechnology have good reason to
be concerned. While the pros and cons of GMO continue to be hotly debated
throughout Europe it is surprising how little discussion of the subject
there has been in Ireland. This is all the more surprising when you
consider that Ireland is more heavily dependent on agriculture than most
other European countries.

But at least one EU applicant country is taking a stand. At a recent
ceremony Slovenia declared itself a GM free zone. 'Most of our farms are
small holdings of 12 -15 acres' says Marjana Dermelj the co-ordinator of
the Coalition of NGOs for GM free Slovenia. 'Because of the small size of
our farms and the scattered nature of the land there is no way that our
farmers could avoid their crops becoming contaminated with genetically
modified organisms(GMO's) . They would end up with GMO's regardless of
whether they wanted them or not.'

As in other countries it would be Slovenia's organic farmers who would
have the most to lose should genetically modified crops be grown there.
They aim to have 30 % of their agricultural farmland converted to organic
farming over the next ten years. But an important feature of organic food
is that it is guaranteed to be GMO free. Should their farms become
contaminated with GMO's Slovenia's organic farmers would immediately lose
their organic licence, their price premia and ultimately their
livelihood. And, as de-listed organic farmers in Canada have discovered,
it would be no defence to say it wasn't their fault.

'The question that hasn't yet been asked about GMO's is do we want them?'
says Marjana. 'Our surveys show that 89% of consumers in Slovenia don't
want to eat genetically modified food.' Much the same attitude amongst
consumers prevails in other European counters. Given that in the last
decade, rightly or wrongly, consumers have been the driving force not
only in the market place but also in agricultural policy, all farmers
need to approach biotechnology with considerable caution. The rules of
the EU and the agreements of the World Trade Organisation bind Slovenia,
like other countries in Europe. So they may not be able to ban GMO's. But
their declaration of a GM free zone has strong support from their government.

Speaking at the signing ceremony of the GM Free zone, Slovenia's
Agriculture Minister said 'personally I am very much in favour to
establish a GM free region within the EU. I know that there are some
obstacles at the EU level to achieve this but I believe that such option
should be possible.' Their Environment Minister Janez Kopae agrees. 'We
cannot ban GMOs but we can avoid using them' he says.

But what about Bushes argument that genetically modified crops could be
used to feed the world's starving millions?. 'I'd say lets share our
existing resources of food first' says Marjana. 'Even a small reduction
in the billions of tones of grain fed to farm animals and diary cows in
particular would provide a lot of food for the starving millions.'
Marjana rejects the argument that GMOs provide cheap food. She points to
the billions spent on research into biotechnology and the billions that
farmers using it will spend on weedkillers and pesticides. By comparison
the amount spent on researching organic and environmental methods of
farming is a pittance.

In the end the arguments about GMO's come down to money and power says
Marjana. 'Monsanto now has a patent on their Roundup ready soya beans'
she says. 'The seeds of a crop that has been grown for hundreds of
thousands of years now belongs to them. I think that's immoral.'


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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D - 38116 Braunschweig

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