Parliament Magazine, April 3, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The European Union must take precautionary measures to prevent genetic contamination of conventional crops because Europe's farmers have a clear right to keep genetically modified organisms (GMO) out of their fields, says Friedrich Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, a member of the European Parliament.]

By Friedrich Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, MEP

European farmers and consumers widely refuse genetically modified plants in their fields and on their tables.

Agriculture and rural development commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is aware of this. She stated in a recent interview that she would never force farmers to grow GMOs.

The [European] commission and member states must indeed guarantee farmers and consumers the freedom of choice. Therefore, they need rules that guarantee GMO free agriculture and food in Europe.

However, the authorized use of GM technology in agriculture deliberately exposes farmers and processors to the risk of crop and food contamination via pollination, harvesting machinery, transport and processing.

To date, there is no legislation in place regulating precautionary measures or liability for this loss of choice. There is only EU law on labelling the presence of GMOs in food.

Coexistence rules have only been set up in four EU member states.

Commissioner Fischer Boel tells us that because of a lack of practical experience, we cannot yet assess the full effectiveness and economic impact of these rules. She is right.

But it is exactly this lack of experience that is the main reason why we have to be tough on coexistence rules.

We cannot measure the ecological, economic and even health consequences of the release of GMOs into the environment and we must therefore guarantee that contamination does not take place where people reject their use

In many countries like the US, Brazil and Argentina, where GMOs are fully authorised, coexistence has not worked.

Organic farmers have lost their certification, their markets and consumer trust. These farmers have strongly advised their European colleagues to insist on the precautionary principle. And on strict liability rules, which will force farmers to think twice before using GMOs.

There is no right to contaminate, but there is a right to stay GM free in conventional and organic farming.

It is not too late to prevent ecological and economic damage; it is now time for the commission to get its act together.

We need a European framework law on prevention of contamination and on strict liability rules.

Article 26a in the EU directive on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms allows member states to take appropriate measures to avoid the unintended presence of GM in food products.

Member states must use this right and the Commission must take its responsibilities seriously and allow member states to take measures that guarantee their freedom of choice.

Under certain conditions, this clearly includes the right to prohibit the release of GMOs into the environment within a region.

This article was originally published in the April 3 edition of the Parliament Magazine.

Copyright 2006