BRUSSELS (BELGIUM) – Today, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) accused the European Commission of dodging its responsibility, as EU legislative initiator, on the issue of genetic contamination in agriculture.
The Commission has been asked by several EU member States  to propose strict and precise rules in order to ensure the so-called ‘co-existence’ in agriculture. That is, to guarantee the European farmers’ right to grow conventional and organic crops, without incurring any additional costs due to the cultivation of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). However, a yet unpublished Communication on co-existence , which the Agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler, is going to present on Wednesday to his colleagues, takes the view that legislative action at Community level should be avoided. Instead, the Commission’s Agriculture services consider «most suitable» the «approach based on subsidiarity», where the Community action would be limited to coodinating and advisory functions. They also assume that co-existence measures should be limited to economic aspects of genetic contamination; therefore its impact on health and environment is not taken into account.
Greenpeace, Friends of The Earth Europe and the EEB insist that only ‘hard’ legislation at EU level can give a positive solution to the ‘co-existence’ issue, save the purity of our seeds and ensure the survival of uncontaminated conventional and organic farming in Europe. With no hard legislation in this area, genetic contamination will soon become a ‘fait accompli’ in EU agriculture, depriving European consumers and farmers of the right to choose. It will also be the end of organic farming as we know it today. Within the Commission, there are already plans to establish a tolerance threshold for GMO contamination in organic products, an attempt that even in the USA has failed because of the opposition of consumer organisations and organic farmers.
Should GM crops be planted on a commercial scale in Europe, the measures to avoid contamination could substantially increase the final cost of conventional and organic products. The EU Joint Research Centre has calculated, for instance, an increase in costs as high as 41% for oilseed rape seed production, and 9 % for maize production . EU legislation is necessary to establish the principle that those extra costs must be borne by the GMO growers responsible for the contamination. Instead, Fischler’s Communication argues that the burden of co-existence measures “should fall on the economic operators (farmers, seed suppliers, etc.) who intend to gain a benefit from the specific cultivation model they have chosen”. This is unacceptable: according to this view, conventional or organic farmers, who certainly have an economic interest in ensuring that their products remain GM-free, would have to pay to avoid contamination instead of the owners of the GM crops.
Since 1996, all new legislation on GMOs has only been initiated by the Commission under strong pressure from EU public opinion and especially from the member States that decided the current ‘de facto’ moratorium on new approvals . It would be appalling to see now the EU commissioners playing again dilatory tactics to avoid fulfilling their duty. The completion of the EU legislative framework on GMOs requires clear and coherent EU legislation on co-existence, to establish who is responsible for avoiding genetic contamination in European fields, which measures should be implemented at this end, who should implement them and bear their costs, and who should ultimately be liable for economic damage and adverse effect on health and the environment in case contamination occurred anyway. Strict rules on labelling and traceability of GM food and feed will soon become meaningless if genetic contamination is allowed in the fields.
Greenpace, Friends of the Earth Europe and the EEB call on the Commission and and EU member States to propose and adopt clear and effective legislation to protect the agricultural assets of Europe, if they don’t want to be held responsible for the foreseeable consequences of genetic contamination : environmental damage to farmland and biodiversity, economic loss for conventional and organic farmers, and higher prices for the overwhelming majority of consumers that want to keep buying and eating non-GM food.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
 Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and Portugal have insisted on this request during the last EU Agriculture Councils.
 An advanced draft of the Communication, dated 25 February 2003, will be made available for the public on the websites of the three NGOs today, after midday.
 EU Joint Research Centre, « Scenarios for co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops in European agriculture », 2002.
 France, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg stated their decision durinng the Environment Council of 25 June 1999, in Luxembourg. Austria and Belgium joined the group in 2001.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Lorenzo Consoli, Greenpeace, mobile + 32 496 12 21 12
Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe, mobile + 31 62 900 59 08
Mauro Albrizio, EEB, mobile + 32 479 94 02 51