(Beyond Pesticides, December 14, 2010) A petition of more than a million signatures was presented to the European Commission last week, demanding a halt to approvals of new genetically modified (GM) crops and the establishment of up a new scientific body to study the impact of the technology and determine regulations. Greenpeace led the effort.
The petition is seen as a test case for the “European citizen’s initiative,” introduced under the European Union’s new constitutional treaty, which enables a million or more people to jointly ask the European Commission to change EU legislation. It follows the Commission’s decision in March to grant the first EU GM cultivation approval in 12 years for the “Amflora” potato.
“Over a million people across Europe have set the EU a democratic test — will the EU address the real concern people have about GM crops and food, or will it side with the chemical industry lobbyists controlling GM technology?” Greenpeace’s EU Director Jorgo Riss said. “Until safety issues of GMs are examined by independent experts, all GM authorizations should stop.”
A spokesman for the EU executive said it would treat the signatures “as a petition in the spirit of the citizen’s initiative,” Despite the fact that rules governing the Citizens’ Initiative are not expected to be finalized until next year. John Dalli, the EU Commissioner responsible for GM policy, said, “I am committed to look seriously at the request made through this initiative.”
GM crops are one of the most controversial areas of EU policy, with widespread public opposition to the technology in most EU countries. Earlier this year, the Commission proposed an overhaul of EU rules on GM cultivation, which would let governments decide individually whether or not to grow the technology, and Commissioner Dalli pledged to press ahead with EU approvals while the plans are discussed.
GM crops are genetically engineered to be resistant to pests and pesticides, whether by the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crops. However, there are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GM crops. A recent study by University of Notre Dame scientists found that streams throughout the Midwest are contaminated with GM materials from corn crop byproducts, even six months after harvest. GM crops are already known to contaminate conventional non-GM and organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment by increasing resistant insects and weeds, contaminating water and affecting pollinators and other non-target organisms. The long-term health effects of consuming GM food are still unknown. GM crops present a unique risk to organic growers. Wind-pollinated and bee-pollinated crops, such as corn and alfalfa, have higher risks of cross pollination between GM crops and unmodified varieties. Other reports find that the rapid adoption by U.S. farmers of genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton has promoted increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in foods.
Beyond Pesticides’ goal is to push for labeling as a means of identifying products that contain GM ingredients, seek to educate on the public health and environmental consequences of this technology and generate support for sound ecological-based management systems such as organic agriculture. Organic agriculture does not permit GM crops or the use of synthetic herbicides, and focuses on building the soil—minimizing its effect on climate change.
For more information on GM crops please see Beyond Pesticides page on Genetic Engineering.