February 18, 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 own products.
"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 GM ingredients.
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
"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 to comply."