Italian region orders GM maize fields destroyed (12/7/2003)

ABC News Online, Sat, 12 Jul 2003

Italy's Piedmont region has ordered the destruction of 381 hectares of maize fields thought to contain genetic material, a spokesman for its president said.

"The President of Piedmont region, Enzo Ghigo, has ordered the destruction of  381 hectares of genetically modified maize in the region," spokesman Massimo Tesio said.

Mr Tesio said the order would be published on Saturday (local time) and carried out no more than five days later.

Under Italian law, the sowing of genetically modified crops in open fields is banned under a so-called "zero tolerance" policy.

The Piedmont authorities did not say how the contamination of the maize arose.

Farming sources said the farmers on whose land the crops were growing were not being held responsible.

The farmers expected to be compensated by the regional government.

Officials of Italy's biggest farmers' association, Coldiretti - a staunch opponent of commercial biotech plantings in Italy, said the group welcomed the news as it underscored Piedmont's support for the "zero tolerance" policy.

The Bologna-based Italian Seeds Association (AIS), which represents 175 seed companies, said any decision to destroy maize fields underlined the inability of Piedmont to handle the situation.

"They [Piedmont] are trying to put all the responsibility on the seed  companies," AIS director Marco Nardi said.

"The Piedmont decision is a disheartening confirmation of the authority's  incapacity to manage the problem.

"Interfering with fields that were certainly sowed with traditional seed  varieties... is an absurd decision that will end up just penalizing the farmers who are involved."

Regional public prosecutors had decided in a meeting late on Thursday local time to give Piedmont the right to decide whether to destroy the crops.

The maize fields, located between Turin and Cuneo, were found to contain  genetic material during a recent routine inspection.

Piedmont is a major growing area for maize, Italy's biggest cereal crop in tonnage terms. Italy is the European Union's second biggest maize producer after France.

Maize harvesting in Italy will start in a few weeks' time.

The United States, Canada and Argentina are taking the European Union (EU) to the World Trade Organization for refusing their genetically modified exports, which US farmers say costs them $US300 million a year.

Italy was one of the original members of a group of EU states that in 1999 said they would refuse EU permits for any new genetically modified products pending new regulations on safety testing, labeling and product tracing, all of which are now approved in principle.

Only a handful of genetically modified crops are allowed to be imported or grown in the EU as the bloc has not granted any permits since 1998. 

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