2004 -- CropChoice news -- Paul Brown, The Guardian,
02/14/04: The EU is racing against time to
stop genetically modified foodstuffs entering Western
Europe from the east after the community's enlargement
on May 1, the Guardian has learned. Some of the 10 new
member states have been growing GM crops for some time,
but recent checks have shown that the testing facilities
to monitor their spread to neighboring crops are either
flawed or non-existent.
The biggest agricultural country in Eastern Europe,
Poland, which has been growing GM crops for several
years, has had no testing facilities at all.
Environmental groups accuse biotech companies such
as Monsanto and Pioneer of using the former eastern
bloc as a "trojan horse" to get GM products
into the EU. However, these companies have been legitimately
marketing their seed varieties there since 1996.
The problem is not lack of legal regulation. The EU
has ensured that all the new members have rules on GM
similar to those in the rest of the community. The difficulty
is enforcement. Some of the newcomers have no idea whether
their crops contain GM organisms since their testing
regimes are inadequate. Where tests have been carried
out by green groups some samples have been clear but
others found to contain GMOs well above the EU legal
limit for labeling.
The EU has recognized this as a problem and has been
helping those countries without facilities to set up
laboratories that can detect genetic modification in
crops and foodstuffs.
Iza Kruszewska, a researcher for the Northern Alliance
for Sustainability, an environment and development group,
believes that by asking countries such as the Czech
Republic and Poland to permit the commercialization
of GM maize before May "the biotech industry is
trying to use the enlargement process to introduce GM
by the back door of EU accession".
Beate Gminder, a spokeswoman for the health and consumer
protection directorate of the European commission, disagrees.
She says she is sure the problem of detection will be
solved by May 1.
Each country will be responsible for certifying its
"According to the law, all products containing
GM will have to be labeled," said Ms Gminder. "If
countries did not have the testing facilities or expertise
to check their products they could contract the work
to countries and laboratories that could do the work.
I am sure everyone understands that."
She said the rules were clear. Some GM crops had been
approved in the EU. If a food product contained more
than 0.9% of an approved GM crop then it would have
to be clearly labeled. Products containing more than
0.5% of crops - such as GM potatoes - that were not
approved in the EU would have to be labeled as containing
This second provision is an added hurdle for some of
the 10 new member states because they have been growing
crops not yet approved in the EU. Some of these may
never be approved because they have been superseded
by other varieties and have fallen out of fashion.
Geert Ritsema, the Friends of the Earth GM campaigner
for Europe, said: "These regulations are all about
the consumer's right to choose whether to eat GM or
not. Poland has allowed growing of GM soya but without
any regulations being implemented. People can buy and
sell these things and plant contaminated seed with out
fear of prosecution or detection because there is no
method of doing so.
"After May 1 all edible oils will have to be labeled
if they contain GM. Soya and maize oil would require
a GM-free certificate. But in an unregulated country
who knows whether the certificate means anything? If
supermarkets want to be sure what they're selling to
consumers they'll have to test the products themselves."
Besides the internal EU rules, he said the bio-safety
protocol, which EU countries had ratified, made it illegal
to export and import GM seeds without prior informed
consent. Because of the history of growing GM in an
unregulated fashion seed from Eastern Europe needed
to be tested to make sure it did not contain some contamination.
A second problem for Europe concerns some of the countries
farther east, such as Ukraine, which have been growing
GM potatoes since 1997, and candidate countries like
Romania and Bulgaria, which wish to join the union in
2007. Romania, anxious to please the US, has grown GM
crops on a large scale. Neighboring Serbia accuses Romania
of contaminating its supposedly GM-free crops as a result
of grain smuggling across the border.
This is a particularly sensitive issue for countries
such as Hungary, which has taken a strong GM-free stance
to protect its seed-growing industry. EU states have
been increasingly turning to Hungary as a source of
GM-free seed. Remaining uncontaminated is a key to this
continuing export trade. Hungary, along with the Czech
Republic, is fully equipped with laboratories that can
certify seed and food as GM-free. Most other new member
states, while believing that their grain is GM-free,
have no way of being sure.
Tony Combes, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto
UK, rejected accusations of using Eastern Europe as
a trojan horse. He said: "Each accession country
must comply with all aspects of EU rules and regulations
to be full members - this includes the enforcement of
product labeling in every industry. Equally, existing
EU-approved GM crops may be marketed in accession countries
once they have joined."
He added: "It is more a case of the EU being used
as the standard to which the accession countries have