Friday, April 11, 2008

GMO: Europe Says Yes; Member States Don't Follow

GMO: Europe Says Yes; Member States Don't Follow

By Ophélie Neiman

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Like France, six European Union Member states have already suspended cultivation of Monsanto 810. All are struggling to adapt to the 2001 directive.

The proposed law with respect to GMO being debated in the National Assembly at this moment is no accidental coincidence. Nor does it reflect a sudden desire by the government to legislate on this point. For France, it's all about catching up on their European responsibility before taking over the Union presidency. And about finally transposing the 2001 European directive on GMO into French law. That directive compels Member States to create a legal framework for GMO open-field cultivation - notably to legislate on the distances that must be maintained from non-GMO crops and the responsibilities when contamination does occur.

A directive that is quite simply "un-transposable," in the opinion of Green Gérard Onesta, European Parliament vice president and a "volunteer reaper" [a person who has trimmed GMO fields to prevent their cultivation]. In his view, this text immediately demonstrates its limits concerning contamination distances:

"To hope to make mud and pure water share the same test-tube, that's what the European directive proposes! How do you expect to prevent contamination on each side of a border?

"If a Member State wants a 50km [about 31 miles] security perimeter, the neighboring country can shrug it off.

"If we continue in this direction, ultimately the mud-lovers will be delighted and tough luck for those who prefer pure water."

Colza, Soya, Carnations, Chicory: European Authorizations on the Rise

Although the Union's Member States seem deeply discomfited by Community decisions, the European Commission is not slowing down its authorizations: March 31, Brussels gave its agreement to imports of Swiss firm Sygenta's GA21 corn. In consequence, this transgenic corn may be imported by the Union's 27 countries, but may not be cultivated there. That's also the situation with transgenic colza, soya, carnations, chicory and tobacco.

Yet, the majority of public opinion in the Union is opposed to the cultivation and to the introduction of GMO products into the territory. More radical still is the attitude of the big Member States vis-̂-vis the sole GMO plant authorized for cultivation within the Union: Mon 810 corn.

In France, its cultivation has been suspended since the Environmental Summit, during which the government decided to activate the escape clause. The French case is not isolated. Romania did the same thing on March 27. These two countries follow in the footsteps of Hungary, Austria and Greece. Italy and Poland have already transposed the directive, but in such a way that cultivation is de facto forbidden.

Before entering the Union, Romania was the GMO paradise, had tried transgenic soya and cultivated 300 hectares [about 1.16 square miles] of Mon 810 in 2007. But its Union entry seems to have changed the situation. Now Spain is the premier producer of GMO corn in Europe, with 60,000 hectares [about 231 square miles]. The other producers, Germany, Portugal, and the Czech Republic, do not exceed 1,000 hectares [about 3.86 square miles].

"Within the Commission, ... a Fierce Debate That Blocks the Situation."

These examples show how wide the gap is between European legislation and the Member States' attitude. How can that gap be bridged? According to Gérard Onesta, the solution is simple, but will take time:

"The directive must be changed. But you know, to change a European law, you have to have a proposal from the Commission. Now, within the Commission, there is a fierce debate that blocks the situation. Maybe next year, with European elections that will determine a new president for the Commission, things will move. That's democracy."

Arnaud Apoteker, responsible for Greenpeace's GMO campaign, doesn't think the directive is so bad:

"It leaves a sufficiently broad framework for the Member States to be able to invoke the escape clause. Or to allow a law that ultimately prevents GMO cultivation, as in Poland."

And it's true that Europe's GMO production remains paltry compared to that of the rest of the world. The United States cultivated 58 million hectares of transgenic soya, corn, cotton, and other crops; Argentina, 20 million; Brazil, 15, and Canada, 7. On the Asian continent, India produced 4 million hectares of transgenic cotton in 2007 or 12 percent more than in 2006.

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