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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2002 / 1014


14 october 2002

uk wildlife watchdogs slam plans for european law on genetically modified seeds

Monday 14 October 2002, Brussels/London -- The UK Government’s wildlife watchdogs have warned that European Union (EU) plans to allow batches of conventional seed to contain significant levels of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) “could result in adverse impacts on farmland biodiversity” [1].

Civil servants are due to give the go-ahead to the controversial proposals in the next few weeks [2]. Friends of the Earth is urging European Agriculture Ministers and Environment Ministers - who are meeting to discuss GMO issues in Luxembourg today (14 th October) and Thursday (17 th October) - to intervene and scrap the proposed new seed regulation [3].

Friends of the Earth has obtained the response by the British Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies (an official advisory body to the UK government) to the draft European proposal [4].The report warns that the ecological impacts are “poorly understood” and could lead to the creation of genetically modified (GM) super-weeds which “may lead to farmers using more herbicides...potentially resulting in increased damage to biodiversity." Furthermore, GM crops could cross with wild plant species which "could lead to disruption of native ecosystems or the gradual development of weediness in native species."

The nature conservation agencies calculate that the proposed contamination threshold for oilseed rape (0.3 per cent) would mean that up to 10,000 GM seeds per hectare could be inadvertently sown. If neighbouring farmers also unknowingly plant GM-contaminated seed, the report warns, the two GM crops may cross, leading to "genestacking" and serious weed control problems for farmers.

Friends of the Earth, which shares the worries of the nature conservation agencies, is also concerned about the knock-on effect on consumer choice. The GM seed regulations will lead to GM contamination of the food chain and eventually remove people’s right to choose GM-free food.

Geert Ritsema, GMO Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Allowing GM-contaminated seed to be sold across Europe is a recipe for disaster. It will pollute our food and countryside and remove consumer choice. If anything goes wrong with this new technology the potentially catastrophic consequences will be irreversible. Ministers must step in urgently to stop these plans becoming law.”

Last week hundreds of people from 14 European countries took part in a supermarket trolley protest in Brussels. Pushing trolleys containing GM-free food, they urged European politicians to protect their food from GM pollution through tight regulations and comprehensive and accurate GM labelling. Photos available on request from Friends of the Earth.


Geert Ritsema, GMO Campaign Coordinator, mobile phone: 0031-6-290 05 908 (present in Luxembourg on October 14th)

Materials available: full report: DEFRA Consultations 02/03-165. Commissions proposals on thresholds for the adventitious presence of approved GMOs in seeds. Response on behalf of British Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies.


[1] For the past year a draft Directive has been drawn up to amend existing seed marketing directives to allow for thresholds for GM contamination. The draft regulations specify GM contamination thresholds for seed batches - oil seed rape (0.3 per cent),tomatoes, beet, cotton, chicory, maize and potatoes (0.5 per cent) and soya beans (0.7 per cent) – before having to be labelled.

[2] The seed regulations are being drawn up by the European Commission, which will then seek agreement from Member States via civil servants. An indicative vote will be taken by the Standing Committee on “Seeds and Propagating Material for Agriculture,Horticulture and Forestry”. After the vote the proposal will goto the WTO for 60 days so that other countries can comment. A final vote will then be taken in Brussels.

[3] Agriculture and Environment Ministers will be discussing GM issues when they meet in Luxembourg. FOE is also calling on them to continue the de facto European GM moratorium and agree to new laws to tighten the labelling of food containing GM ingredients. Seed contamination is currently not on the agenda.

[4] The British Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies consists of English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Countryside Council for Wales. Their report – in response to a DEFRA consultation - “Commission proposals on thresholds for the adventitious presence of approved GMOs in seeds” is available from Friends of the Earth.



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