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Commission urges EU states to determine how to compensate for GMO contamination

(Thursday, March 20, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --Joe Kirwin, Bureau of National Affairs: BRUSSELS--The European Commission recommended March 5 that European Union member states address individually the issue of how to compensate traditional or organic farmers for losses they might suffer from contamination caused by genetically modified crops.

However, the Commission said EU member states should not set up a mandatory ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops in member states, "since the protection of economic interests alone cannot be invoked as a legally valid justification for imposing such strong limitations on fundamental liberties."

At the same time the EU executive body issued a report saying that diverging policies among EU member states on biotechnology could "seriously hamper" the fledgling life science industry in the EU.

A recent Commission survey of private biotech companies and public research institutes reported that "39 percent of the respondents have cancelled research projects on GMOs over the last four years," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "In the private sector alone, 61 percent of respondents have cancelled research projects in this field."

"Furthermore, between 1998 and 2001, the number of notifications for GMO trials in the EU declined by 76 percent. ... If we do not react, we will be dependent on technology developed elsewhere in the world within the next 10 years," Busquin added.

The Commission's recommendation came out one day after the 15 EU member states squared off in the Council of Environment Ministers on the issue of whether insurance should be mandatory or voluntary under a proposed environmental liability scheme. Eight of 15 nations said they opposed making insurance coverage for companies obligatory.

'Co-Existence' of GM, Traditional Crops

While it insisted that "co-existence" of GM and traditional crops raised issues that "have to be addressed," the Commission said no form of agriculture should be excluded in the EU.

"Co-existence concerns the economic consequences of adventitious presenceof genetically modified crops in non-GM crops," the Commission said. "Theissue has its origins in the principle that farmers should be able to cultivate freely the agricultural crops they choose."

Currently, the EU has no law addressing economic losses that a traditional or organic farmer might suffer if crops suffer GM contamination.

"In respect of the principle of subsidiarity [decisions made at local level] ... the first step must be to find out whether the existing national laws do not already offer sufficient and equal possibilities," the Commission said.

Should GM-free zones be adopted, they should be done on a local level and on a voluntary basis, the EU executive body added. The Commission said such voluntary agreements are already in place between farmers and industry for other crops that require high purity standards.

While the European Commission denies that the issue of "co-existence" of traditional and GM crops was related to the EU's current de facto moratorium on genetically engineered products, some member states, members of the European Parliament, and environmental groups insist that it does.

Unresolved Issues

"Many problems relating to GMOs have not yet been resolved," said Friends of the Earth, one of the most influential environmental groups in the EU when it comes to GMO issues, in a statement. "It therefore makes sense to keep the moratorium in place at least until ... the protection of organic and conventional farms from GM contamination is legally binding." Some EU member states--led by France, Italy, Austria, and Luxembourg, all proponents of the EU's GMO moratorium--have requested that the Commission draw up EU-wide legislation on how to address coexistence and how organic farmers would be affected by possible contamination. They cite recent EU studies that indicate the cost of traditional and organic crops could jump considerably should GM crops be planted on a commercial scale in Europe.

Currently, the only EU member state cultivating GM crops is Spain.

-end story- Meanwhile, here's a piece from The SEU TIMES Socio-Ecological Union Newsletter: TADJIKISTAN RISKS TO FIND ITSELF HELPLESS AGAINST GMOs

Traditional agriculture and rich nature of Tadjikistan should not be exposed invasion of GMO in case if the country enters WTO and take off all trade barriers. But it risks to, because there is no legislation on biosafety in the country, and in addition there is not enough information about GMO. Those facts were put on agenda of the seminar on Kartakhena Biosafety protocol. The seminar, in which scientists, deputies of Parliament, international organizations and Tadjikistan NGOs, and also the special institutes and inspections on the GMO problem took part, was held in Dushanbe (Tadjikistan) in the beginning of March.

According to the data of Institute of Genetics and Physiology Of Plants of Tadjikistan, officially in the country there is no neither test fields, nor commercial cultivation of GMO yet. However, according to the Institute's unofficial data, commercial cultivation of GMO is already carried out in Tadjikistan, but what exactly is grown and where, the employees of the Institute don't say.

The representatives of the State inspection on plants quarantine, and also of veterinary service and some other supervising agencies have confirmed in their statements on the conference that they don't have the methods of control of GMO. And since there are no laws on biosafety in Tadjikistan yet, they are not competent to control it. They have admitted, that even if such law would exist, they were were unable to supervise distribution of GMO because of lack of experts and necessary technical base.

The customs officers point out that Tadjikistan imports many foodstuff and grain, but neither of these products is inspected for GM-components. In spite of many scientists that pointed out at the seminar that they consider GMO a salvation for agriculture, the final document of the conference recommends to Tadjikistan to restrict the import of GMO, and to join Kartakhena protocol, which rigidly controls trans-boundary moving of GMO, as soon as possible.

For further information:
Timur Idrisov, "For The Earth",
Dushanbe, Tadjikistan
e-mail: idrisov@tajik.net
Biosafety campaign of ISEU: