GENET archive


6-Regulation: GM policy shift in Europe - Common coexistence rulesplanned

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM policy shift in Europe
SOURCE: The Scientist, by Ned Stafford
DATE:   26 Jan 2005

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GM policy shift in Europe
Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel wants new rules for
genetically modified crops

Newly installed European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has
signaled a major shift in European Union policies toward genetically
modified (GM) crops, telling a German newspaper last week that she believes
the European Union should issue guidelines for acceptable distances between
GM and non-GM crops.

Currently, the European Union leaves it up to member states to regulate
sowing of GM crops so they do not contaminate adjacent non-GM fields with
GM pollen. Coexistence of GM and non-GM farm fields is so controversial in
several EU nations, including Germany, that Fischer Boel's predecessor,
Franz Fischler, simply avoided the issue.

In an interview with the daily Berliner Zeitung, Fischer Boel said that GM
and non-GM fields must be separated to avoid GM contamination. However, she
said: "Regulations must not be so hard that the producers of GM crops have
no chance to come to market."

Some German political observers saw Fischer Boel's comments as a veiled
reference to Germany's new strict GM law, which holds planters of GM crops
liable for economic damages to adjacent non-GM fields even if they followed
planting instructions and other regulations. Many GM crop supporters see the
law as an indirect attempt to stop GM planting in Germany. The law was
spearheaded by German Agriculture Minister Renate Künast, a member of the
Green party, which is a junior coalition partner of Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder, SPD party.

Schroeder's main opposition parties, the CDU/CSU and the FDP, both issued
statements applauding Fischer Boel's initiative while at the same time
criticizing Künast's "ideologically conditioned go-it-alone" law.

In an interview with The Scientist, Michael Mann, spokesman for Fischer
Boel, acknowledged that there were issues with the new German law in terms
of "whether it was proportional" to the legitimate needs of co-existence.

"We have asked for a clarification," Mann said, adding that the requested
study will also look at current GM planting regulations in other EU

Based on that study, expected to be completed by the end of the year,
Fischer Boel and her fellow members on the European Commission, the
European Union's executive body, will decide what sort of coexistence
regulations would be feasible for Europe, Mann said.

When asked whether Fischer Boel in general supports GM crops and research,
Mann said: "She does, if GM crops are kept separate [from non-GM fields].
She believes GM crops are a reality; they are with us and need to be
properly regulated."

Christoph Then, a GM expert for Greenpeace Germany, which supported passage
of the new German law, told The Scientist that Fischer Boel's comments mean
that "the issue of coexistence has returned to the EU level."

But Then declined to speculate on the significance of her comments to the
anti-GM crop movement. "This is a change of policy in the European Union,
but it is too early to know what it means," he said.

Then said that however the issue develops at the European Commission level,
Greenpeace's goal will continue to be a total moratorium on GMOs in Europe,
especially for rapeseed and corn.

The organization will continue to push its theme that unless it can be
definitely proven that GMOs are safe, they should be considered unsafe,
Then said. "And with the evidence we have now, we believe they are not

To that end, Greenpeace Europe this year plans to issue two reports, Then
said. The first, which might be issued by late February, would be a
concrete Europe-wide "risk assessment" of the effect of GM crops on non-GM

The second report would be a "more abstract" study of the basic question of
the overall safety of GM organisms. It would be designed to spark a major
"scientific discussion" in Europe on the use of GMOs, Then said. "We think
we need to come back to the basic scientific question of what we really
know about the safety of GMOs," he said.

Links for this article

Mariann Fischer Boel

"Obligatory standards for the gene crop farming," Berliner Zeitung, January
20, 2005.

N. Stafford, "GM law 'a blow for science,'" The Scientist, December 1, 2004.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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