Romania: a playground for the genetic engineering industry? (6/9/2007)

Briefing - ROMANIA: a playground for the genetic engineering industry?
(WebWire) 5 September 2007

International - Over the past three years Greenpeace has investigated the failure of the Romanian Government to ensure the control and traceability of genetically modified (GMO) Soya plants produced by Monsanto (1).

The cultivation of illegal crops (experiments with GMO potatoes and plum-trees, the massive cultures of GMO Soya in the entire country) (2), the black market of GMO seeds, the contamination within processing plants and the illegal GMO food products on the market (3) show that GMO Soya is completely out of control, even though its cultivation has been banned since 1st January 2007, when Romania joined the EU (4).

The 2006 plans of the Ministry of Agriculture were meant to phase-out GMO Soya cultivation. In actual fact GMO Soya production reached a massive 130.000 hectares (5), almost doubling the amount planted in 2005 (85.000hectares).

The Romanian government’s failure to take control has allowed Monsanto to run riot over the country, contaminating their environment, their food and their people.

The Romanian Government banned GMO Soya in January 2007, when Romania entered the EU. Greenpeace, however, discovered large-scale illegal commercial cultivation of the crop this year. The Romanian authorities do not seem to be taking any control over illegal GMO production.

Once GMOs are released into the environment they cannot be contained, and contamination of conventional and organic fields occurs. Greenpeace demands the, Romanian Government, and the European Commission take urgent action to contain and decontaminate the country from rogue GMOs and outlaw production of any GMOs in the future.

GM maize cultivation a major risk for Romania

The 1st January 2007, the date Romania joined the EU, was also significant because it meant that Romanian farmers could start cultivating Monsanto’s GMO maize (MON810), the only GMO authorised for commercial cultivation within the EU.

It was unclear at the time of their accession to the EU, whether the Romanian Government was going to allow MON810 cultivation, or not. Prior to the growing season, Greenpeace urged the Romanian government to ban MON810, based on the latest scientific, economic and legal advice. Many EU member states have banned MON810, in their countries to protect their agriculture, environment and consumers and Greenpeace called on Romania to follow their lead (6).

The Ministry of Agriculture recently informed Greenpeace that there are 332 hectares of Monsanto GE maize (MON810) being grown across six counties in Romania (7)

GMO legislation in Romania is extremely unclear, and there is confusion as to the legal status of the GMO crops. The Community law on GMOs, which would allow Romania to grow MON810, was only introduced on the 28th June, after the growing season had started.

The Ministry of Environment stated that, according to Romanian law 214/2002, which applied at the time, they needed to be officially informed by Monsanto, prior to planting of the MON810 seeds. Given that they received no notification this year, any GMO cultivation is illegal (8).

However, the Ministry of Agriculture argues that it is legal. They refused to provide Greenpeace with details of the locations of the MON810 crops, on the grounds that it was confidential (9).

The vastly different opinions of the Environment and Agriculture Ministries of the same government, expose just how chaotic and out of control the situation is. The proliferation of unauthorised GMOs, and lack of transparency about where they are will only exacerbate the dangers posed to the environment, farmers, and consumers.

Why GMOs are a threat to Romania:

GM Soya

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soya

In the mid-1990s, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soya was one of the first GMOs to be commercialised. Rounup Ready Soya has been genetically engineered to be tolerant to the herbicide, glyphosate which is manufactured by Monsanto and sold under the name Roundup.

Since its commercialisation, a series of irregularities and unexpected effects with the Soya, have cast severe doubt on its safety for the environment and for food and animal feed.

These include:

The build-up of weed tolerance to the herbicide used with GMO Roundup Ready Soya requires increasing amounts of herbicide and more powerful herbicides to be applied.

Roundup Ready Soya contains additional fragments of the genetic insert; the crude genetic engineering method has caused rearrangements of plant DNA, possibly producing unintended proteins.

There is also increasing evidence that Roundup Ready crops are harming the environment where they are grown: the supposed environmental benefits of the Soya such as reduced herbicide application, and of the benign nature of the associated herbicide, Roundup, have proved unfounded.

Instead, a series of negative effects on biodiversity are emerging, such as; herbicide-tolerant weeds, toxicity and persistence of glyphosate (Roundup), possible decline in plant diversity. (11)

GM Maize

Threats to the environment and our health

Recent scientific literature clearly demonstrates the environmental and health risks posed by the growth and consumption of GMO Bt maize plants (10). Bt maize, like MON810, contains a gene which produces a bacterial toxin to protect the plant from insects such as the European corn borer.

The Austrian Ministry of Health recently published evidence of possible unintended effects of the Bt toxin on organisms other than the European corn-borer, such as butterflies. They also explain the possibility that the corn-borer could develop resistance to the toxin, which would reduce the crop’s efficacy.

Further concerns include a lack of data on how Bt crop cultivation affects other pests, that could also grow resistant to Bt plants, and that this could lead to increased use of pesticides in future. There is also considerable concern that Bt-toxins could accumulate to concentrations that adversely affect soil organisms.

In addition, there is crucial scientific controversy over the safety of GMO crops for animals and humans. Unexpected and unpredictable effects of GMO crops on animal and human health cannot be excluded. (11)

A recent independent scientific study shows negative impacts suffered by rats fed with GMO maize. The authors of the study warned that it would pose a danger to human and animal health to disregard the signs of toxicity in the liver and kidney of the test animals. (12)

Contamination of GMO free maize and the end of organic agriculture

The risk of contamination from GMO maize to conventional and organic maize is of major concern. Once released, GMO crops can not be contained. Cross-Pollination, wind flow, harvesting and storage pose very serious threats to Romania’s current GMO free maize crops.

Romania cultivates around three million hectares of maize every year and is one of Europe’s biggest producers of the crop. Monsanto’s GMO maize poses a serious threat to the genetic heritage of the special varieties of maize adapted to cultivation conditions in Romania. Moreover, the release of these new varieties of GMO organisms into the environment will make it practically impossible to produce certified organic maize, because the flow of genes cannot be controlled. The Romanian authorities must refuse to authorise cultivation of Monsanto MON810 GMO maize.

Economic problems for food industry

The absence of control measures, including testing, labelling, monitoring and traceability, mean Romania is unable to respect EU laws and requirements. Its agricultural exports and food products could be banned from EU markets altogether, either because products do not meet the EU standards regarding labelling and traceability, or because they don’t meet the demands of consumers, who reject GMO food in most European countries.

According to the latest EU surveys, 62 per cent of Europeans are worried about GMO food. The majority of Europeans thinks that GM food should not be encouraged. GMO food is seen as morally unacceptable and as risky for society. (13) As a consequence, the majority of food and drink industries in the EU reject the use of GMOs in their products. (14)

This consumer and market rejection could lead Romanian farmers and major food industries to be shut out of the EU market.

Consumers don’t have freedom of choice

The weak labelling laws mean the public is not aware that the food they consume could contain GMOs. EU regulations on labelling and traceability (1829/2003 & 1830/2003), already applicable in Romania, are not properly enforced.

Greenpeace analysis of Soya food products bought from Romanian supermarkets, showed is the food to be contaminated on a range of 61.2 to 97.3 per cent, with product labels failing to indicate that they contain GMOs (15). The analysis shows that Romanians are effectively being treated as guinea pigs for GMO food. Though the Romanian authorities are clearly testing Soya food products themselves, they are keeping the results secret (16).

A professional opinion poll (17) commissioned by Greenpeace this August confirms that an overwhelming 67% of Romanians reject GMO foods.

Greenpeace demands the Romanian Government apply the Precautionary Principle, to ensure that proper measures are taken to avoid contamination scandals in the future, and:

1. Immediately bans the import and cultivation of Monsanto’s GMO maize MON810 and its hybrids;

2. Takes immediate measures to decontaminate the environment and the food chain from GMOs that have been illegally released into the environment (such as Roundup-Ready Soya);

3. Stop GMOs entering the Romanian national seed catalogue;

4. Revoke all permits for the import and sale of GMO seed, for field trials and commercial cultivation of GMO crops and destroy any GMO seed already in Romania;

5. Put in place an efficient labelling system for food. This requires traceability of all seeds or commodities that are GMOs or contain GMO derivatives, from field to fork and, for imports, from port of entry to plate.

6. Recognises the rights of Romanians to declare their region or country a GMO free zone.

7. Provide support to organic farming, through education, public procurement policies and by providing economic incentives.

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