GM Focus

GM protestors arrested as EU opposition radicalises

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm Maize Genetically modified food Genetically modified organism

On the other side of the debate, environmental activists remain
committed to ensuring that Europe's food supply remains GM free
even if that means breaking the law.

This week, Jose Bove, who has become a symbol of French opposition to genetic modification (GM), was arrested after he, along with up to 75 campaigners, attempted to occupy Monsanto's seed facility near Carcassonne in southern France.

The campaign against the North American biotech giant had been organised by the Collectif des faucheurs volontaires, la Confederation paysanne and Greenpeace. The protestors want Monsanto and the French authorities to stop importing and distributing GM maize seed into France.

"We are here to demand that the French authorities ban GM seed and in the interim corporate conglomerate Monsanto must stop hiding where these environmentally destructive maize seeds are to be grown,"​ said Bove.

"Farmers and consumers have the right to know where GM seeds are entering agriculture and the food-chain, so they can protect themselves against genetic contamination."

In particular, the protesters aim to influence the new GM law currently being discussed in the French parliament. Greenpeace alleges that the new law, if passed, would allow massive genetic contamination of both organic and conventional maize.

"We are putting Monsanto on notice, along with each and every Biotech firm that is contaminating our fields and our food supply now - or has future plans to introduce GM seeds - this is the beginning, we will not stop until France is declared a GM free zone,"​ said Olivier Keller, national secretary of the Confederation Paysanne.

"GM is harming the environment and is causing genetic contamination of the food-chain and agriculture, thus threatening the right of farmers and consumers to grow and eat GM free food."

Biotech companies and regulators argue that adequate controls are already in place to ensure that the cross-contamination is not an issue.

"Thousands of European farmers grew GM last year, successfully co-existing with their neighbours,"​ said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio - the European association for bioindustries.

"In the last three years alone, independent, scientific studies on co-existence have been conducted in six European countries."

In addition, Mariann Fischer Boel, member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture and rural development, pointed out that the question of how to cultivate a given GM crop alongside non-GM crops only arises if that crop has already been cleared as harmless by the EU's assessment system.

"That system is, arguably, the strictest in the world,"​ she told a recent GM conference in Vienna.

But the point is that vocal opposition to GM food in Europe remains critically influential. This week the Slovakian inspectorate of environment published a decision that states Monsanto will not distribute their GM maize for the 2006 growing season, effectively shutting out sales of GM maize for the next year.

Greenpeace claims that the halt was put in place, due in part, to pressure on the Slovakian inspectorate to answer "growing concerns about environmental damage and contamination caused by GM maize"​.

"Resistance against GM in our fields and food has been growing globally since its release onto the market nearly 10 years ago,"​ said Geert Ritsema, Greenpeace International GM campaigner. "In Europe alone 172 regions have declared themselves GM free, and around the world many other governments, farmers and citizens are uniting to keep their countries GM free."

It would appear that the concept of tampering with the genetic make-up of food still packs a mighty emotional punch for a large number of EU consumers and for some, no amount of scientific studies verifying the safety or environmental benefits of the technology is likely to change this.

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