Yesterday in Bangkok, Thailand Consumers International, a worldwide federation of consumer organisations, launched a campaign to stop the spread of GM crops until 'internationally agreed regulations are in place and there are clear benefits to consumers, farmers and the environment.'
Now in their tenth year since commercialisation in North America, GM crops continue to be planted on an ever increasing global area. Yet in the European Union, the area planted to GM crops is negligible, compounded by a moratorium on the regulatory approval process for the use and planting of these crops that only turned around earlier this year.
Many people in the EU perceive that there is little current or future demand for GM crops and their derivatives. And the EU now has a tough set of labelling rules, some of the strictest in the world, for the presence of genetically modified organisms in food products that easily alert consumers to any GM material in a food formulation.
The CI signalled with regards to existing GM foods it will focus on four areas - aiming to ensure that all GM foods are subjected to rigorous, independent safety testing; are adequately labelled, and traceable back to their origin; and that producers are held liable for environmental or health damage which they may cause.
The campaign kicked off in Thailand, where, according to the CI, farmers and consumers are 'deeply concerned at the unregulated introduction of GM papaya' from a research facility into the open environment.
CI reports that although the authorities have ordered the destruction of the unauthorised GM papaya, scientists 'fear that that contamination has spread'. Thailand's exports, they continue, have 'already suffered' - one large European importer cancelled an order for papaya, stating that European consumers did not want GM foods.
Moving on from GM labelling rules, Europe is now tackling the controversial subject of seed thresholds. At a hearing last week the EU's incoming farm chief Mariann Fischer Boel told members of the European Parliament that GMO seed thresholds should be set at the lowest possible level, a position favoured by green groups.
"My clear view is that (GMO) residues should be as low as possible, taking into account all the interests at stake in setting a limit," she said, set to start work in November when the current EU Commission is replaced. "If we want to continue with organic production in the long term, we have to pay attention to that."
Last month, the current Commission failed to agree over the latest version of the seeds proposal. The proposal that was discussed would have allowed maize and rapeseed, the only two GMO crops authorised, to contain 0.3 per cent GMOs before being labelled as biotech. A 'detection level' of 0.1 per cent, is the lowest level technically feasible.