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Green groups say EU plan would hurt non-GM farmers

(Tuesday, March 4, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- BRUSSELS, March 3 (Reuters) - Environmental groups on Monday condemned a European Commission proposal which they said force organic and traditional farmers to pay to prevent their crops from mixing with genetically modified organisms.

Since five European Union member states refused to grant any more GM crop approvals in 1998, leading to a de facto ban, the EU executive has been working to put a proper system in place to meet their concerns.

The non-binding proposal on how genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic crops can co-exist is set for a vote on Wednesday.

"The Commission is going to dodge responsibility on the co-existence issue," Lorenzo Consoli, Greenpeace EU policy director for genetic engineering, told reporters. "They would be responsible for the contaminatinon of EU agriculture."

But the EU executive disagreed.

"It's a question of choice for farmers what crops to grow," said a Commission spokeswoman, adding that the document is a paper, not a legislative proposal.

Statements of policy often form the basis of future legislative proposals, which originate in the Commission.

Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace and the European Environmental Bureau say the proposal would tilt the balance in favour of the biotech industry, leaving farmers in an uphill struggle to grow GM-free food.

They pointed to a section of the proposal, which says:

"The burden of applying measures to deal with co-existence should fall on the economic operators who intend to gain a benefit from the specific cultivation model they have chosen."

Friend of the Earth GMO Campaign Coordinator Geert Ritsema said: "If this paper is adopted, GM would be the rule and GM-free the exception."

The three conservation groups want tough EU legislation on co-existence that would apply across the 15-nation bloc.

The Commission spokeswoman said EU legislation is already in place, ensuring that only authorised GM crops having undergone a health and environmental assessment can be cultivated.