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Europe: a europe-wide struggle to be gmo-free!

At the beginning of the 1990s a new threat challenged our environment and heath: genetically modified crops and food. Friends of the Earth Europe reacted very early to this new attempt by a few agribusiness corporations to impose their products and increase their control of the food chain.

FoEE Biteback campaignFriends of the Earth's biteback campaign.An early priority was following the development of European legislation and promoting better public understanding. Members groups began to mobilise people at the local level as well. Very soon Friends of the Earth groups became a reference on the issue of genetic engineering. Public outrage in many countries and persuasive lobbying by groups including Friends of the Earth eventually led to a de facto moratorium on new GMOs from 1998.

One key word sums up the Friends of the Earth Europe GMO campaign: diversity. First of all, diversity of people. Little by little, more and more Friends of the Earth and other groups were involved, from all parts of Europe including Eastern Europe. Crucially this enabled the campaign to combine national and European lobby work and influence policies, building a grassroots movement against GMOs, shaping a hostile public opinion and creating resistance in every region and every village around Europe.

Connection and coordination with Friends of the Earth International’s GMO campaigning created a strong campaign ranging from local to global levels. Diversity has also been a characteristic of the activities of the campaign. From lobby work at European, national and regional levels, to joint awareness work in many countries; from European wide tomato tours, to decentralised days of action; from international conferences, to a march of shopping trolleys in front of the European Commission.

One example was the Bite Back campaign to counter-attack the US’s complaint to the World Trade Organisation about the EU’s GMO policies. This campaign included the Monster Tomato Tour: a giant tomato visited more than 20 cities in 12 countries between 2003 and 2004, an excellent tool for promoting public awareness, media coverage and signature collection. The GMO-free Europe campaign, initiated by FoE, has also been one of the biggest European-wide actions and managed to create a real movement of regions and towns defending their right to say no to GMOs.

And the most important diversity of all: the one of successes! In the early 1990s, Friends of the Earth sowed the seed of doubt on GMOs in Europe. Twenty years later, a huge number of civil society organisations are involved, public opinion is massively against GMOs, and Europe is nearly GMO-free in terms of cultivation. In the meantime, Friends of the Earth Europe influenced EU-wide legislation and many other regulations and political decisions.

Even after all this time, the campaign still remains strong and successful. Nine countries have implemented some kind of prohibition on MON810 corn and/or Amflora potatoes (the only two GMOs approved for cultivation), and more than 200 regions and 4,500 local authorities have declared their territory GMO-free. With the European Union a major importer of foods and crops, a GMO-free Europe also helps to make a GMO-free world. Long may it remain!


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