EU Commission backs farmers who want to grow GM crops (23/7/2003)

"The right to eat GM-free food will be severely compromised if GM crops are grown on a large scale.  The Commission must accept that no one wants GM foods and that public authorities have every right to protect their consumers and environment." - Mauro Albrizio from the European Environmental Bureau (item 2)

1.EU Backs Farmers Who Want to Grow GMO Crops
3.Farmers to resist growing GM crops
5.Commission recommendations to ensure co-existence of GM and non-GM
1.EU Backs Farmers Who Want to Grow GMO Crops
Wed July 23, 2003

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Local or national governments cannot  ban farmers from planting genetically modified crops, the European Commission said on Wednesday, supporting those farmers  who want to embrace the controversial technology.

The Commission's new guidelines -- part of a push to end  the five-year moratorium on GMO crops that is under attack from  the United States -- spell out how crops produced from  genetically modified organisms can be grown alongside organic  and conventional crops within the European Union.

"It is not possible for regions or national governments to  introduce GMO-free zones," European Farm Commissioner Franz  Fischler told a news conference.

But while authorities cannot prohibit farmers from planting  GMO crops, regional groups of farmers were free to get together  and decide against planting GMO crops, he said.

Authorities cannot ban farmers from using GMO crops as such  a move would violate EU law giving farmers the freedom to  choose.

However, Fischler said there could be an opt-out in cases  where it was impossible to limit contamination of non-GM crops  due to the variety of biotech crop being sown and the lay-out  of fields.

"(In Austria) there is strip farming where fields are  terribly narrow...you can't have (GM) maize on a little strip  co-existing with other crops on the side."

The European Environmental Bureau, a non-governmental lobby  group, called on EU governments to create GMO-free zones.

"The right to eat GM-free food will be severely compromised  if GM crops are grown on a large scale," EEB head Mauro  Albrizio said in a statement.


The provincial government of Upper Austria has banned  genetically modified organisms but the European Food Safety  Authority recently said there was no justification.

Farmers in that region may now be able to take action.

"In case you are from Upper Austria you can go to the  European Court and say you disapprove of what Upper Austria is  doing and feel your rights have been violated," Fischler said.

The Commission will take a final decision on the Austrian  case in September, when EU farm ministers will discuss the  Commission's new guidelines, which are not legally binding.

The co-existence debate is seen by many in the biotech  industry as another way for GMO-skeptical countries to postpone  lifting the five-year ban on most GMO crops.

Biotechnology lobby Europabio welcomed the guidelines.

"They set out the best practices member states should  follow when growing GM crops," said a spokeswoman. "We now want  the Commission to propose the GMO content in seeds."

The Commission's move follows the adoption of rules to  label all GMO food and feedmeal, giving consumers the choice  between GMO and non-GMO products on supermarket shelves.
Jul 23
Brussels, 23 July.  Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the   European Environmental Bureau today condemned the European   Commission' s recommendation on co-existence between genetically   modified (GM) and non-GM crops.

The Commission says that GM contamination of organic crops should   be allowed.  It says that new GM labelling rules - which will   require products to carry a label if they contain an ingredient   containing 0.9 per cent or more GM material to be labelled -   should apply to " conventional and organic farming alike " [1].   The environmental NGOs are urging member states to refuse to allow   this to happen.

GM-free areas 

But the Commission gave a boost to Friends of the Earth's GM-free   Britain campaign by recommending that "measures of a regional   dimension could be considered " to prevent GM contamination.  This   opens the door to regional bans on GM crops.

In October last year Friends of the Earth launched its GM-free   Britain (www.gmfreebritain.com[1]) campaign, to persuade local   authorities to take action on GM food and crops.  Earlier today   (Wednesday) Somerset County Council voted to go GM-free, and   Cumbria County Council will vote in the issue tomorrow.  The Welsh   National Assembly, Devon, Dorset, Lancashire, Cornwall,   Warwickshire, Shropshire, South Gloucestershire and the Lake   District National Park have already backed GM-free policies.

European Commission's Recommendation 

The European Commission's recommendation (which has yet to be   published) will be discussed by the Commission later today.  It will not be legally binding.  EU member states therefore have the right to take more far reaching measures to protect organic and conventional crops from GM contamination.  Amendments, adopted by   the European Environment Ministers yesterday, say that "member states may take measures to avoid the unintended presence of GM's in other products".  The amendments also say that   responsibility for avoiding genetic pollution should lie with the GM producers.

Friends of the Earth Europe's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said:

"Moves to allow organic crops to be contaminated with GM pollution   are totally unacceptable, and could lead to the death of organic   food and farming.  Member States should reject this   recommendation and bring in tough legislation to prevent   genetic contamination and ensures real consumer choice." 

"Local authorities across the UK have taken steps to protect their   food, farming and environment by introducing GM-free policies.  The   Commission's call for regional measures to stop GM pollution is   a welcome boost, and should encourage even more councils to take   action."

There is widespread scientific agreement that commercially grown   GM crops will contaminate conventional and organic farms over an   extensive area.  Therefore the green NGO's are urging Member   States to take appropriate measures, such as creating GMO free   zones and the adoption of legislation that establishes zero   tolerance towards the GM contamination of seeds.

Eric Gall from Greenpeace said

"Member states should make clear in their national legislation that GM producers are the ones responsible for     avoiding GMO's in food, feed and especially seeds.  According   to the polluter pays principle GM producers should also bear the cost   of anti-contamination measures"  .  

Mauro Albrizio from the European Environmental Bureau added:

"The right to eat GM-free food will be severely compromised if GM   crops are grown on a large scale.  The Commission must accept   that no one wants GM foods and that public authorities have every   right to protect their consumers and environment."  


[1] Draft Commission recommendation on guidelines for the   development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the co-existence of genetically modified crops with conventional   and organic farming.

[2] A number of local authorities (and the Welsh National   Assembly) have already endorsed GM-free policies.  These include   taking action to stop tenant farmers growing GM crops, and banning   GM food from local food services such as school meals and   residential homes.  They can also write to the Government and   Brussels applying, under new European laws, to be excluded from   growing certain GM crops.

.. [1] http://www.gmfreebritain.com
3.Farmers to resist growing GM crops
Patrick Fletcher, The Western Mail, Jul 22 2003
WELSH farmers have pledged to fight any plans to introduce GM crops into Wales.

The Farmers Union of Wales fears GM crops could destroy this country's reputation for quality produce.

Speaking on the day National Assembly minister for rural Wales Carwyn Jones unveiled new measures to promote Welsh lamb, the FUW was spearheading the anti-GM debate.

Its move came as a government report by the GM Science Review Panel said that the risk to human health from GM crops was low.

Although it stopped short of giving blanket approval, the study said there was no case for ruling out all genetically modified crops and their products.

But the FUW has repeatedly expressed concern over the Government's wish to grow GM crops commercially in the UK and was one of the first organisations to call on the National Assembly to declare Wales GM-free.

"We think growing these crops should be banned until such time as scientific trials conducted in closed laboratory conditions have proved beyond doubts that there is absolutely no risk of cross-pollination," said FUW president Gareth Vaughan.

"Welsh farmers are proud of their clean green methods of food production and want to protect that image".

"Allowing large-scale production of GM crops in Wales would ruin that image and throw away any commercial advantage that it brings".

Mr Vaughan said the union had expressed dismay at the European Union's decision to make it illegal for member states or their regions to declare their areas GM free.

Minister Mr Jones said, "My main concern is how do we protect the interests of organic and conventional growers in terms of their livelihoods and the environment and a lot of questions still need to be asked about the environmental effects".

Welsh pressure group GM-free Cymru launched its own trawl for information about the effects of the controversial food on humans.

It found there were only a handful of scientific studies in the public domain.

Newcastle University carried out the only known feeding of GM food to humans under trial conditions.

Those taking part were given a single meal of a deep fried GM soya burger and a GM soya milk shake.

It was found that measurable amounts of the modified gene survived in the gut and transferred to gut bacteria. Other amounts were excreted, suggesting that the modified gene could enter the sewage system and ultimately the wider environment and, critically, drinking water.

"We can't understand why there have not been more studies," said Chris Samra-Tibbetts, who acts as group co-ordinator.

"We're not Luddites. We don't want to turn back the clock and we recognise that science has benefited the world enormously, but this has to be better trialled and better tested.

"They keep saying there are all these studies that have been done, but none of us can get hold of them.

"Monique Warnock, campaign team leader at the Consumers' Association, said, "The findings are not a clean bill of health for GM. While the report says risks to human health of existing GM crops is low, it highlights that risks remain for future products.

"With less than a third of consumers finding the idea of food produced from a GM plant acceptable, the Government must ensure that consumer opinion plays a key role in its decision.

"THE Government panel reporting yesterday said that worldwide there have been no verifiable ill effects reported from the extensive consumption of products from GM crops over seven years by humans and livestock.

Some argue that this, combined with the testing required for regulatory clearance, provided important assurance of safety.

The panel concluded that on balance the risks to human health from GM crops currently on the market were very low.  The panel also found that, for the current generation of GM crops, the most important issue was their potential effect on farmland and wildlife.

This was currently being investigated with the examination of the impact of herbicide tolerant crops on the environment in farm scale evaluations.

The report identified areas where more scientific research was needed including allergenicity, soil ecology and consequences of gene flow.  It also called for companies to make good choices in terms of gene design and plant hosts, to develop products that meet wider social wishes, and for the regulatory system in the UK to continue to operate.

SHOW visitors can say what they think of GM food at a GM-o-meter operating alongside the Farmers' Union of Wales stand alongside the main show ring.

The survey is being carried out by Green- peace, which has forged an anti-GM alliance with the FUW, Friends of the Earth Cymru and the WI.

Survey co-ordinator Elwyn Lear of Llandrindod Wells said most of the visitors were opposed to the science.

"They want more independent research because most of the research up to now has been done by GM scientists," he said.

"There have been a few people who think it's OK but on the whole people say it's too premature to start using them.

"Cross-pollination with native plants was the biggest concern, and ingesting GM plants.

Immediate release: 23 July 2003
Today Somerset became the latest council in the southwest to state its opposition to GM crops and back policies to protect the county from GM pollution.  Friends of the Earth, which launched its GM-free Britain campaign last year [1], welcomed the move.

The resolution, passed unanimously at the full council session this morning, stated that the council does not believe that GM crops should be grown commercially, has reconfirmed its GM-free policy for county farms and suppliers and will apply to prevent specific GM crops from being grown in the county once it has had the European legislation clarified [2], if that is what the public in Somerset want [3].

There is widespread opposition to GM crops in Somerset. Taunton Friends of the Earth has set up a database of over 20 000 acres which landowners have pledged to keep GM-free. 1500 postcards have been sent to the county council, central Government and to Europe voicing local feeling, as part of a county-wide roadshow over the summer.

Tushie Garstang from Taunton Friends of the Earth said:

"We are very pleased with this unanimous vote today. Tthere is strong local opposition to GM crops and foods in Somerset, and we are renowned for our high quality local food. This vote clearly shows that the council wants to protect this reputation and oppose GM crops. We will keep a close eye on the council to make sure they follow through on what they have promised today."

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner in the South West, Keith Hatch said: "This is another positive move from a council in the Southwest, where more and more local authorities are taking action to be GM-free. This is also more evidence that people do not want their food, farming and environment contaminated with GM pollution, and another reason why the Government must refuse to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in the southwest and throughout the UK"

Pressure for a GM-free Southwest is growing with Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and South Gloucestershire councils all taking steps to go GM-free.

The Government is expected to decide later this year whether to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in the UK. Commercialisation risks widespread GM contamination of food, crops and the environment.

[1] www.GMFreeBritain.com

[2] Local Authorities can request legal protection of their areas from particular GM crops  using Article 19 of  the Deliberate Release Directive 2001/19/EC. For more explanation see briefing on GM-Free local areas:
http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/gmfree_local_areas.pdf (PDF)

[3] The council resolved:

That this council notes with dismay the lack of scientific evidence offered to the public attending the 'GM Nation' debate that took place in Taunton on 7 June 2003, organised by the national GM public debate steering group.

This council believes the fullest independent scientific evidence should be presented to the public to enable a proper debate to take place, including the results of the field trials, which are due to be published later this summer."

and declares that;

In the light of so little firm evidence of the effects of GM on either the UK environment or of GM food on human health, it does not believe that GM crops should be grown commercially.  In this, it is fulfilling its duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of South Somerset communities under Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000.

Reiterates its policy in relation to county farms and in relation to county suppliers as resolved at full council on the 26th of May 1999 and by the Countryside and Heritage board on the 9th of June 1999.

To this end, the Council commits to;

requesting the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to extend the period of public consultation to enable maximum public participation in this debate, on a fully informed basis.

and to clarify urgently the meaning of Article 19 of Directive 2001/18/EC and whether the council could exempt the geographical area of Somerset in order to protect the environment and the integrity of Somerset as a GM-free area, should that be the eventual wish of Somerset's public ( in that event the council would further seek to safeguard Somerset's farmers who wish to remain GM-free by raising an objection to each national licensing of a GM crop by using a standard letter from the county community protection officer)

agrees to revue its policy in the light of new evidence in 3 years time

Tushie Garstang Tel 01823 286311
Keith Hatch 01308 428 315
Clare Oxborrow Tel 020 7566 1716/ 07712 843 211 (m)
5.The notice from the Commission press room

GMOs: Commission publishes recommendations to ensure co-existence of GM and non-GM crops
DN: IP/03/1096     Date: 23/07/2003
Brussels, 23 July 2003

GMOs: Commission publishes recommendations to ensure co-existence of GM and non-GM crops

Today the European Commission published guidelines for the development of strategies and best practices to ensure the co-existence of genetically modified (GM) crops with conventional and organic farming. They are intended to help Member States to develop workable measures for co-existence in conformity with EU legislation. The guidelines set out the general principles and the technical and procedural aspects to be taken into account, and provide a list of possible actions that could be tailored for implementation at national or regional or local level.

Commenting on the guidelines, Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said: "We want to ensure that farmers are able to cultivate the types of agricultural crops they choose be it GM crops, conventional or organic crops. This is why we need measures to ensure their co-existence. What is an efficient and cost-effective best practice is specific to national and regional or local conditions. This makes an EU-wide "one-size-fits-all" approach unworkable. The recommendations are based on the latest available research results, and provide a sound basis on which Member States should build their approaches."

Under the new rules on GMOs as adopted yesterday by the Council (see IP/03/1056) Member States have the possibility to take appropriate measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products, while the Commission is asked to develop guidelines on the co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops.

The guidelines on co-existence complement the comprehensive regulatory framework that the European Union has set up for dealing with GMOs and food and feed produced from such organism. The EU will pursue its examination of new GMOs which in accordance with EU law can only be authorised for cultivation and/or marketing in the EU if they present no risk for human health or the environment. A number of GMOs were and are notified for authorisation and are being processed by the Commission and the Member States.

The Commission will carefully monitor the respect of EU legislation on GMOs. It will address any possible problem arising from diverging measures at Member State level that would not comply with EU legislation.

General principles of the Guidelines

Building on experience with existing segregation practices (e.g. in certified seed production), approaches to co-existence need to be developed in a transparent way, based on scientific evidence and in co-operation with all concerned. They should ensure an equitable balance between the interests of farmers of all production types. National strategies and best practices should refer to the legal labelling thresholds and purity standards for GM food, feed and seed.

Measures should be efficient and cost-effective, without going beyond what is necessary to comply with EU threshold levels for GMO labelling. They should be specific to different types of crop, since the probability of admixture varies greatly from one crop to another; while for some crops the probability is high (e.g. oil seed rape) for others the probability is fairly low (e.g. potatoes). In addition, local and regional aspects should be fully taken into account.

The need for strategies that ensure a fair balance between the interests of farmers of all types of production is underlined. Farmers should be able to choose the production type they prefer, without imposing the necessity to change already-established production patterns in the neighbourhood. As a general principle, during the phase of introduction of a new production type in a region, farmers who introduce the new production type should bear the responsibility of implementing the actions necessary to limit admixture. Finally, continuous monitoring and evaluation and the timely sharing of best practices are indicated as imperatives for improving measures over time.

Indicative catalogue of measures

The non-exhaustive list included in the guidelines indicates measures that Member States could adapt or use in various combinations and that become part of national co-existence strategies and best practices. They could include:

on-farm measures (such as isolation distances, buffer zones, pollen barriers such as hedgerows),

co-operation between neighbouring farms (such as information about sowing plans, use of crop varieties with differing flowering time),

monitoring and notification schemes,

training for farmers,

exchange of information,

advisory services.
The appropriate scale of measures for co-existence

Priority should be given to management measures applicable on farm level and in close co-operation with neighbouring farms depending on crop and product type (e.g. seed versus crop production). Measure of a regional dimension could be considered if they are proportioned and if sufficient levels of purity cannot be achieved by other means.

Why should Member States decide on co-existence measures and not the EU?

Following the adoption of EU legislation on traceability and labelling and GM food and feed Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs has been amended to allow for the possibility of measures for co-existence at Member State level. Many of the factors that determine what is efficient and cost-effective best practice are specific to national and regional characteristics and farming practices, which vary greatly from one Member State to another and within national territories themselves. A "one-size-fits-all" approach is therefore not appropriate.


Concerning the question of liability in the event of economic damage resulting from admixture, Member States are advised to examine their civil liability laws to find out whether existing national laws offer sufficient and equal possibilities in this regard. The type of approach to co-existence adopted by Member States may have an impact on the application of national liability rules. Farmers, seed suppliers and other operators should be fully informed about the liability criteria that apply in their country in the case of damage caused by admixture. In this context, Member States may also want to explore the feasibility and usefulness of adapting existing insurance schemes, or setting up new schemes.

In two years time the Commission will report to the Council and the European Parliament about experiences gained in the Member States and on the possible need for further steps to take.

What is co-existence?

The issue of co-existence refers to the ability of farmers to provide consumers with a choice between conventional, organic and GM products that comply with European labelling and purity standards. Co-existence is not about environmental or health risks because only GM crops that have been authorised as safe for the environment and for human health can be cultivated in the EU. Since different types of agricultural production are not naturally separated, suitable measures during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage and processing are needed in order to manage the possible accidental mixing (admixture) of GM and non-GM crops resulting from seed impurities, cross-pollination, volunteers(1) and harvesting-storage practices. Co-existence is concerned with the potential economic loss through the admixture of GM and non-GM crops which could lower their value, with identifying workable management measures to minimise admixture, and with the cost of these measures.

(1)seeds remaining in the soil after harvest and producing new plants in successive years

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