BRUSSELS (BELGIUM) – Today’s approval of the first new genetically modified (GM) food in Europe for over five years will only harden consumer resistance says Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest grassroots environmental network.

The group heavily criticised the European Commission [1] for approving the import of a controversial GM sweet-corn without the support of the European Union (EU) member states who remain deeply divided over its safety.

The maize, developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, has been engineered to include a deadly insecticide. The European approval is only for food and animal feed imports and not for growing in the EU.

However Friends of the Earth claim that with opposition so high there is little future for GM food and crops in Europe.

Consumers say no:

There is virtually no market for GM foods in Europe as consumers have overwhelmingly rejected them. New EU labelling and traceability regulations came into force on April 18th giving consumers better information to decide. Official opinion polls show that 94.6% of EU citizens want the right to choose and 70.9% simply do not want GM food.

GM-Free Regions:

Initiatives to ban GM crops from being grown have now started in at least 22 European countries with some regions introducing their own legislation to ban the crops. In France over 1200 municipalities have issued GM free statements as well as 500 cities in Italy.

GM industry in retreat:

The biotechnology industry sees no future in Europe. Last week biotech giant Monsanto withdrew their GM wheat after selling their European cereal business last year. Last month Bayer withdrew the only commercial crop it had in the UK. The number of applications to test GM crops outdoors in Europe have reduced 80% since 1997.

Exports lost:

Countries that have planted GM crops on a large scale have seen their exports to Europe crash. Maize from the US to Europe has declined from 3.3 million tonnes in 1995 to just 25,000 tonnes in 2002. Canada has lost all of its oilseed rape (canola) market to Europe, worth an estimated $300 million. [2]

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“There is no future for genetically modified foods or crops in Europe. Politicians may be saying yes but the public is clearly saying no. The European market is virtually dead, regions are banning the growing of GM crops and the industry is packing up and leaving.

“The European Commission is gambling with the health of consumers. Member states remain divided over the long term safety of this GM sweet corn, yet the Commission wants to force it down our throats. But the public won’t swallow this. Hostility to GM food and crops is likely to grow, and the publics confidence in EU decision-making is likely to be damaged,” he added.

Friends of the Earth opposes the release of GM crops into the environment but does not oppose biotechnology in general.

[1] The Commission is the executive arm of the European Union.
[2] European Commission regrets US decision, Press release, European Commission 13 May 2003
A briefing of the GM situation in Europe can be found at http: //

Niccolo Sarno, Media Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International Tel: + 31 20 6221369