EC commissioner's GM comments 'irrelevant' says EuropaBio

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm European union

Simon Barber, a director at EuropaBio, has issued a withering
attack on EC commissioner Dimas' contribution to the ongoing GM
conference in Vienna.

"It must frustrate many in Europe that others, such as Commissioner Dimas, spoke about issues that are irrelevant to co-existence such as environmental risk assessments for approvals of new products,"​ said Barber, director of EuropaBio's plant biotechnology unit.

"Co-existence is about existing approved products. The Commissioner appears to be confused about the facts; he misinformed the audience by telling them that 'terminator technology' is being sold and by stating that small farmers are being put out of business by GMOs.

"The evidence shows that out of the 9 million farmers growing GM crops worldwide, 90 per cent of them are small scale farmers."

The Austrian Presidency Conference on Co-existence between GM and Non GM crops forms part of the Commission's consultations with interested parties on the development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence.

It is already completely legal to grow certain GM crops within the European Union, with this list of permitted crops likely to get longer.

"Co-existence policy is not about the safety of people, animals or the environment,"​ said Mariann Fischer Boel, member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture and rural development, yesterday. "It is not a tool for managing risks to health or to the environment.

"In the EU, the question of how to cultivate a given GM crop alongside non-GM crops arises only if that crop has already been cleared as harmless by the EU's assessment system. That system is, arguably, the strictest in the world.

"Put simply, it's about choice."

But Barber believes that this point is being missed.

"So far today, I have heard little about co-existence and very little about real choice,"​ he said.

He will however have heard the testimony of Enric Navarro, an organic maize corn grower from Girona in Spain whose farm has been dedicated to organic maize cultivation for the last four years. He claims that this year his crop was contaminated by GM maize.

After testing revealed up to 12.6 per cent of it was contaminated with GM, he burnt the crop at a massive economic loss.

"This act was done to publicly denounce the situation we are currently living with here in Catalua with GM,"​ he said. "To solve the GM problem and its social, environmental and health implications, the only option is to not cultivate a type of crop that the citizens do not want."

But Barber argues that co-existence between GM and non-GM crops has been a success in Europe for years and there is no substantiated evidence to the contrary.

"Furthermore, it is not up to Commissioner Dimas to decide whether EU consumers do or don't want GMOs. Survey after survey shows that they want choice. Comments by Graefe Zu Baringdorf MEP that farmers are being 'forced' to use GM technology are simply wrong."

Once a GM crop has been authorised for cultivation in the EU, in principle farmers have the right to grow it if they wish, and consumers have the right to buy the produce that comes from it. At the same time, farmers also hold the right to cultivate non-GM crops, and many consumers will continue to demand non-GM food.

"Everyone should be free to choose,"​ said Boel. "But that choice is eroded if GM and non-GM crops are unintentionally mixed up; and in such cases, there may be an economic impact on one or more of the parties involved."

EU Member States are currently developing national regulatory approaches to co-existence following the EC's adoption of an overview of the state of implementation of national co-existence measures last month. The Commission believes that dialogue is now essential to decide about the most appropriate way forward on this important issue. "GM farming has arrived, and we must have the administrative tools to handle all aspects of it,"​ said Boel.

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