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July 2010 Updates

EU's 'Dangerous' Move to Nationalise GM Decision-making

The Ecologist
July 14, 2010

Individual countries will be allowed to ban GM crops in a move the EU hopes will stop them blocking new crops being grown by farmers in other member states

A wave of genetically-modified (GM) crops could soon be grown in Europe following an announcement by the European Commission promising to nationalise the decision-making process.

Individual countries in Europe can already block the planting of GM crops by invoking a so-called 'safeguard clause', if they have justifiable reasons to consider that it poses a risk to human health or the environment.

The new EU proposals, which are still to be approved by member states and the EU parliament, would allow countries to ban GM crops for other reasons, such as social/economic reasons or concern about cross contamination of conventional and organic crops.

Current EU rules on GM

GM is currently considered on a case-by-case basis by the EU. Although several varieties are technically allowed to be grown in Europe, only two are currently being cultivated - GM maize (genetically modified to protect the crop against the European corn borer pest and authorised in 1998) and a GM starch potato (a potato with increased starch content intended for industrial use and authorised in 2010, the first to be approved in 12 years).

Countries including Austria, Hungary, Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg are known to be keen to declare themselves GM-free and regions in Italy and Germany have already done so.

The new EU proposal would make this legally acceptable, stating: 'When the legal amendment enters into force, Member States will be free to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of all or particular GMOs, in parts of or in their entire territory. This amendment will be applicable to all GMOs that have been authorised for cultivation in the EU.'

'Dangerous move'

However, anti-GM campaigners say nationalising GM decision-making, if accepted, would allow new crops to be fast-tracked into farming and end the current political deadlock between countries at a European level.

'In an attempt to muddle through with a pro-GM agenda, [the EU] is offering countries national bans if they turn a blind eye to the health and safety concerns they have about new crops during the EU authorisation process,' said Greenpeace policy advisor Stefanie Hundsdorfer.

'Individual bans cannot replace a scientifically sound EU-level safety procedure,' she added. 'GM contamination does not stop at national borders.'

The EU insists it won't 'fast-track' GM in Europe arguing, 'there would be no speeding up of authorisations or weakening of the rigorous environmental risk assessment requirements of the legislation.'


EU Decision on GM Crops

The Irish Times
July 15, 2010

The most important founding principle of the European Union, indeed, its raison d'etre from the outset - the common market - is about to be broken by the European Commission's decision on Tuesday to allow each member state to go its own way regarding the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. As EU health and consumer affairs commissioner John Dalli put it, "we are basically giving much more flexibility to member states to restrict the cultivation of GMOs in their countries".

Or, indeed, to promote them. Thus, for the first time, the single European market is proposed to be set aside, although this radically retrograde step will require the approval of the European Parliament and a qualified majority of the European Council, representing the member states.

The commission's decision is a clear recognition of, and even response to, deep-seated divisions among member states over GM cultivation and use. Despite years of lobbying by Monsanto and other biotech companies, Ireland, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland remain opposed, while the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden are in favour. And the only GM crop to be licensed for 12 years, BASF's Amflora potatoes, only slipped through after the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers failed to agree and the commissionused its residual powers to make the decision by default last March. That move was greeted by howls of protest from anti-GM campaigners who saw it as opening the floodgates to more such approvals.

Ostensibly, the latest move to give member states more discretion in this area does not affect the EU approval process for GM cultivation, which will continue, based on health and environmental risk assessments by the European Food Safety Authority. "We will not be using this as leverage in any way to get more positive decisions," Mr Dalli said. But biotech companies have warned that the commission's proposals are likely to create legal uncertainty and disrupt the EUs single market for agricultural produce, possibly provoking a series of legal challenges. Why, for example, would Amflora be permitted in one country and prohibited in another? That issue is almost certain to be aired in the European Court of Justice, which has been assiduous in protecting the single market.

The commission appears to have calculated that allowing individual member states to opt out "might accelerate the approval procedure for GMOs for cultivation," as one of its spokesmen said last month. This would facilitate pro-GM countries to get on with cultivation while giving others, including Ireland, the right to say no. Under the Green Party's influence, the Government is opposed to GM cultivation here and committed to promoting a "GM-free island". Concerns about GMOs include contamination of organic crops and the environment, potential destruction of biodiversity and local agriculture, excessive use of pesticides and the unknown effects of GM food on public health as well as how a small number of patent-holding companies would control the food chain.


Illegal GM Maize Grown in Ireland

Media Release
GM-Free Ireland
July 23, 2010

  • Government destroys its own field trials
  • Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds contaminated by Monsanto's NK603
  • Call for investigation to determine extent of contamination

DUBLIN and GENEVA - The Irish Government has been accidentally growing GM maize, despite its own policy to ban field trials and commercial cultivation of GM crops in the Republic.

The blunder is doubly embarrassing because this GM maize is an illegal variety that is not allowed for cultivation anywhere in the EU.

The discovery was made by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) at four of its own field trial sites including the National Crop Variety Testing Centre at Backweston in Co. Kildare, and at three other undisclosed locations in Counties Kildare, Kilkenny, and Cork.

DAFF carried out the field trials with a supposedly Non-GM maize variety PR39T83 supplied by Pioneer Hi- Bred Northern Europe, a subsidiary of DuPont, the world's second biggest seed company and sixth biggest agrochemicals company. The purpose of the trials was to find out if this conventional maize is "suitable for cultivation and use under Irish farming conditions".

According to a press release issued late yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), routine tests by DAFF discovered that the Pioneer Hi-Bred maize is contaminated by Monsanto's patented GM "event" NK603. The genetic modification forces the crop to survive heavy spraying with glyphosate, part of the cocktail of toxic chemicals contained in Monsanto's controversial Roundup herbicide. Cultivation of this GM maize is illegal the EU, although importation is allowed for animal feed and human food. It is unclear when DAFF first discovered the contamination. The EPA says it was only notified on 3 June - 3 months after the same seeds were found to be contaminated in Germany, and long after they were sown in Ireland. DAFF re-confirmed the contamination on 19 July.

The EPA says that Pioneer provided a "certificate of analysis" claiming the maize was GM-free. But random tests by DAFF found that 3 out of every 1,000 plants were contaminated by the illegal GM maize variety. That's about 300 illegal GM crops per hectare. DAFF says it destroyed its fields of contaminated maize plants before they reached the flowering stage, in order to prevent pollen drift that would further contaminate neighbouring conventional and organic farmers, whose crops would then also have to be destroyed.

This is the first time a GM crop has been grown - albeit accidentally - in Ireland since protestors destroyed field trials of Monsanto's patented GM beets in 1998.

Economic threat to Irish farmers and food producers

It is unclear how much, if any, of the illegal GM maize seeds have been sold and are now being cultivated by Irish farmers. This would cause large economic losses, and would be an ironic blow for farmers who would lose their biggest maize crop in history, thanks to this year's unusually hot and sunny summer. Contamination by pollen drift and seed dispersal from GM maize has already contaminated hundreds of conventional and organic farmers in Spain.

Lack of due diligence and false certificates

GM-free Ireland spokesperson Michael O'Callaghan said "The Pioneer company has provided false GM- free certificates for its GM seeds on at least two previous occasions. The first was in 2007 when we discovered thousands of tonnes of Pioneer's Herculex GM maize (which was then illegal) entering the EU through Dublin port. The second scandal occurred in March of this year, when Pioneer and other agri- biotech corporations sold 23 different varieties of maize seeds contaminated by Monsanto's illegal NK603 to farmers who cultivated them on 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) in seven states in Germany, where contaminated farmers had to destroy their crops. [6] According to the German-based Foundation on Future Farming, the seed companies refused to accept liability and have not compensated farmers for up to hundreds of millions of Euro in economic losses." "The Department of Agriculture knew this and should therefore have exercised due diligence by testing Pioneer's maize seeds before the field trials began. This is another example of the Government's failure to implement the GM free policy it first agreed three years ago in 2007 and again in 2009."

Call for investigation

Michael O'Callaghan called on the Government to answer the following questions so as to protect the ability of Irish farmers and food producers to retain their share of the rapidly growing EU and US markets for GM-free meat and dairy produce.

  • Why did the Department of Agriculture (DAFF) trust the GM-free certification provided by Pioneer
  • Hi-Bred, even though it must have known that similar assurances provided in Ireland in 2007 and in Germany in 2010 proved to be false?
  • Why did DAFF not test the seeds before it planted them, in view of the fact that the same
  • contamination by Monsanto's NK603 was discovered 3 months ago in Germany, in early March?
  • When did DAFF make the discovery? Why did it wait until 3 June to notify EPA? And why did EPA
  • wait until 22 July to issue a press release?
  • Will the Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly require Pioneer Hi-Bred to provide a list
  • of its customers in the Republic and Northern Ireland, publish the names of dealers that may have received the contaminated seeds, and make this information publicly available to farmers?
  • Does the Government know if the illegal seeds have been sold and planted by Irish farmers? If
  • so, how many acres of maize will have to be destroyed?
  • Will the Government test all maize seed stocks and fields of maize crops for GM contamination?
  • Who will pay the costs for testing, crop destruction, and related economic losses? Will the
  • Government apply the Polluter Pays principle and demand reparation from Pioneer Hi-Bred, or will taxpayers and/or farmers end up having to foot the bill?
  • Is this an isolated case? Will the Government now make a commitment to test every shipment of
  • imported seeds for GM contamination, or will it continue business-as-usual with random tests?

New Weed Strategies Needed, Scientists Say

By Philip Brasher
Des Moines Register
July 29, 2010

Washington, D.C. - The spread of weeds resistant to Roundup herbicide is bringing new scrutiny to the government's regulation of biotech crops.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, a longtime critic of the biotech industry, said the U.S. Agriculture Department has been too quick to approve new varieties of herbicide-tolerant crops and other biotech products.

"Now, more than ever, farmers need to have a Department of Agriculture that takes care to preserve and protect the farming environment for generations to come," Kucinich said during a House hearing he chaired Wednesday on the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds.

One weed scientist, David Mortensen at Penn State University, said the government should restrict the use of herbicide-tolerant crops and impose a tax on biotech seeds to fund research and education programs.

The resistant weeds cannot be killed by the sole use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, which has become broadly popular with farmers with the advent more than a decade ago of soybeans, cotton, corn and other crops that are immune to the chemical. The weeds now infest about 11 million acres, a fivefold increase in three years, Mortensen said.

The problem is most prevalent in cotton and soybean fields in the South but is spreading to other regions. And it will get worse if farmers don't take measures to control for the weeds, including spraying additional herbicides and alternating chemicals and crop varieties, he and other scientists told a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.

The Environmental Protection Agency already requires farmers to limit their use of insect-resistant corn and cotton to avoid the development of pests immune to the pesticide the crops contain. Mortensen suggested the government set controls for herbicide-tolerant crops.

Michael Owen, an Iowa State University weed scientist, thinks Iowa is only two years away from a serious problem with glyphosate-resistant weeds. He said farmers have to quit relying so heavily on Roundup to control weeds.

Farmers "value the convenience and simplicity of these crops without appreciating the long-term ecological and economic risks," he said.

Biotech companies are trying to deal with the problem by engineering new crop varieties that will be immune to more than one herbicide, but even those products will eventually run into resistance problems if farmers aren't careful, Owen said.

Use of Roundup-resistant crops has provided some environmental benefits by allowing farmers to reduce tillage and avoid soil erosion. But a National Research Council panel of scientists that included Owen warned this spring that those gains could be lost if the resistance problem worsens.

Ninety-three percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn planted this year were of herbicide-tolerant varieties. The USDA has been tied up in court over its approval of similar types of alfalfa and sugar beets. Critics say the department inadequately reviewed the impacts on the environment and other farmers.

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., expressed concern that increased regulation of biotech crops could threaten advances in crop production. "The market controls already in place are more than enough to ensure that farmers are employing the best practices to control herbicide-resistant weeds in their fields," he said.

Kucinich said a second hearing will listen to USDA officials.

His influence over regulation of biotech foods is limited. While hearings such as Wednesday's can draw attention to issues, other committees oversee the agencies and write their budgets and legal authority.

Regulation of biotech crops is shared among the USDA, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration. Herbicide-tolerant crops are largely within the USDA's purview, as long as the FDA considers them safe for food. The EPA regulates herbicides but not the crops designed to be used with them.

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