GENET archive


3-Food: GM corn could make the menu in the EU

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM corn could make the menu
SOURCE: Kathimerini, Greece
DATE:   13 Oct 2005

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GM corn could make the menu

Greece will be called upon to reassess its policy on genetically modified
(GM) corn in Luxembourg later this month, according to environmental
campaigners, and could be cornered into approving the foodstuff under
pressure from its European Union peers.

Environmentalists Greenpeace said yesterday that Greece's position on
keeping the country's door shut to the modified corn will come under fire
at the a meeting of agricultural ministers later this month.

"We (Greece) haven't managed to create sufficient alliances at a European
level which would give us support to stop the invasion of genetically
modified food items," Greenpeace's Myrto Pispinis told Kathimerini.

The corn does not meet the basic safety measures implemented by the EU;
however, authorities have failed to take into account these findings and
do not intend to even adopt a commonly used monitoring system, according
to Greenpeace.

The US-based Monsanto Company produces the genetically modified corn
seeds MON863 x MON810 which is used for animal feed and has been altered
to provide resistance to pests.

European consumers have generally been reluctant to accept genetically
modified food items despite manufacturers' insistence that they are safe.

Worldwide, genetically modified beet, potato, soya and tomato have
already been introduced.

Last month a committee of national experts from the 25 member states
blocked the approval of Monsanto's hybrid corn seeds with seven countries
voting in favor and 12 voting against. The rest abstained.

The meeting of agricultural ministers when the issue will be discussed
again is scheduled to take place between October 24 and 25.

The EU's policy of requiring scientific and political backing for new
genetically modified products has been challenged by the US, Argentina
and Canada before the World Trade Organization on the grounds that it
inhibits trade.

All genetically modified seed varieties have to be approved and
authorized by the EU after positive scientific assessment.

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Let them eat GM
SOURCE: The Times Educational Supplement, UK, by Sarah French
DATE:   30 Sep 2005

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Let them eat GM

Brussels is now admitting scientifically altered foods into Europe. It is
a significant change in policy. Sarah French traces how it happened

To the animals that will eat it and the corn rootworm beetle that it was
bred to resist, the maize known as MON863 looks innocuous enough. But the
corn has become the latest potent ingredient in the debate over genetic
modification and whether crops that have been altered by scientists
should enter the food chain.

For farmers in the Midwest of the United States, the maize represents a
breakthrough against a serious pest. For its American producer, Monsanto,
the approval granted last month by the European Union for the commercial
import of MON863 is a significant step.

It is one of only three new Monsanto products to be allowed into Europe
since April last year. For the previous six years, a de facto moratorium
had stalled approvals after a strong campaign against GM crops on this
side of the Atlantic. The admission of MON863 suggests the process is
beginning to tick forward.

For anti-GM campaigners, one more genetically modified organism (GMO) in
Europe is one too many. To Greenpeace, the authorisation symbolises
everything that is wrong with EU democracy. MON863 was approved by the
European Commission on August 8 despite opposition from more than half of
the EU's 25 member states. It is, Greenpeace argues, another example of a
genetically modified organism being forced through by the un-elected body.

Genetically modified crops have been around since Monsanto's scientists
successfully altered the genetic material of plant cells for the first
time in 1992. Five companies in the world now produce them. Soya bean,
corn, cotton and oil seed rape are the most common commercially grown GM

The makers says GM crops pose little risk and have enormous potential
benefits. With the ability to grow in environments where others fail,
they can literally be used to feed the world. They can be bred to contain
more nutrients and to produce better yields, using less water and energy;
some require fewer herbicides and pesticides so are better for the
environment too.

Opponents say genetic engineering is crude and imprecise, and may trigger
unexpected harmful effects in plants or humans. Seeds from GM crops
present a serious danger of cross-contamination with conventional and
organic crops and could create "superweeds" that are highly resistant to
pests. Rather than helping Third World farmers, they say, the wealth
produced by GM is concentrated in the hands of too few companies.

Authorisation for GM organisms is dealt with by Brussels because of the
trade agreement between EU states. By delegating decision-making powers
to the EU, countries become part of the single biggest trading bloc in
the world.

In the 1990s, according to Monsanto, the system of approvals for GM
products was "relatively straightforward". But in 1996, with GM crops
flowing into European ports, Greenpeace and others began a campaign to
raise awareness and to gather support for a ban on their import.

EU legislation since the early 1990s had had two main objectives: to
protect human health and the environment, and to ensure the free movement
of safe GM products within the EU. Once the Greenpeace campaign gathered
steam, opinions in Strasbourg and Brussels hardened against GM. Member
states were ready to take on the might of the US.

As public concern mounted over the perceived potential risks, some
countries banned certain GM organisms within their own borders . Then at
a meeting of the Council of Environment Ministers in 1999, some EU states
agreed to block authorisations of any new organisms in Europe until
scientific uncertainties were lifted and legislation was improved. Other
EU countries and the Commission considered that action to be illegal.
They agreed, however, to take a "thoroughly precautionary approach" in
dealing with new authorisations and the six-year de facto moratorium began.

Dr Colin Merritt, a spokesman for Monsanto, comments: "Because of the
voting procedures of the EU, there is capacity for a blocking group to
prevent approvals based not on factual or safety reasons but on political

In May 2003, the US, Argentina and Canada retaliated against the EU,
lodging formal complaints with the World Trade Organisation. The US has
used this as a platform to warn other nations tempted to follow Europe's

There are endless theories as to why such a gulf exists between the US
and Europe; Americans have been consuming foods containing GM ingredients
for a decade, but Europeans remain sceptical.

"More than 70 per cent of European consumers, including those in eastern
Europe, reject GMOs," says Eric Gall of Greenpeace . "The Commission
expected all the new member states to be less concerned about the
environment and more pro-USA, but that is not what we're seeing. Poland
and Hungary have already enacted bans on the cultivation of a GM maize to
conduct further studies."

Application and authorisation procedures for GM organisms in Europe are
lengthy because of the uniquely complex way the EU works. The system
allows states to express their approval or objection to GM organisms -
some, such as the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, are considered to be
pro-GM; others, including Austria, Greece and Denmark, are vehemently
anti. In practice the European Commission controls the process. It has
the power to speed it along and to authorise particular GM organisms
where disagreement exists between states.

Before decisions are taken, assessments are carried out and opinions are
sought from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was set up
in 2002 to provide scientific guidance.

Greenpeace complains that the system is undemocratic and not
transparent."The EFSA dismisses any scientific concerns of national
authorities and the Commission effectively over-rules the member states'
objections," says Mr Gall.

Dr Merritt of Monsanto counters: "Opponents will say the Commission is
very pro-GM, but it is an administrative body which makes proposals based
on guidelines and test analyses rather than political judgments. ."

Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West, admits the
Commission is walking a tightrope. "The EU is a collective partnership
and the Commission acts as an arbiter where member states can't make up
their mind," he says. "They leave it to the Commission, which becomes
everyone's whipping boy, but someone has to make a decision."

The European Parliament in Strasbourg is proud of the crucial role it has
played in the new legislation introduced last year, especially in
relation to demanding a legal framework of traceability for GM organisms
and meaningful labelling so consumers can make an informed choice.

With the new legislation in place, the moratorium against GM products was
unofficially lifted in April 2004. EU states still have the option of
invoking the "safeguard clause" to impose a national ban on a particular

Europe's authorisation procedures are now considered to be among the most
rigorous in the world, designed to safeguard human health and the environment.

That neither GM supporters nor opponents are completely in favour of the
system suggests it is working as well as it can in dealing with such a
complex and controversial issue.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
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