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European Regions Declare Themselves GM-Free

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 22, 2004 (ENS) - Europe's largest grassroots environmental network is utilizing Earth Day to launch a new campaign demanding better legal protection for areas that want to ban genetically modified (GM) crops. Friends of the Earth Europe says initiatives to ban GM crops are now underway in at least 22 European countries inhabited by tens of millions of people.

The campaign is intended to increase pressure on the European Commission, who in January admitted that it would "be difficult to reject these attempts at establishing GM-free zones, which are driven by strong public local concern and economic considerations."On such consideration is the protection of local traditional agriculture.

Actions taken so far range from regions introducing local laws to ban cultivation, to public authorities lobbying both Europe and national governments for legal protection.

Friends of the Earth Europe's GMO Coordinator Geert Ritsema said, "Local people, politicians and businesses are demanding the right to stay GM free. This is the beginning of an unstoppable movement that governments and European institutions would be stupid to ignore."

"The public says no to GM foods and the only way to prevent the contamination of both our crops and countryside is to ban the cultivation of GM seeds."

field

Farmer's field in the French GM-free region of Aquitaine. (Photo courtesy Relax in France)
The number of regions in the EU that want to ban the growing of GM crops is growing, Ritsema says. In France, more than 1,000 town mayors support GM-free zones. At a regional level, three regions have issued GM-free statements: Alpes de Haute Provence, Aquitaine and Limousin.

In the United Kingdom more than 44 regions have called for special protection in their areas. These include 12 County councils, nine Unitary authorities, two Metropolitan districts, one London Borough, 13 District councils, two National Parks Authorities, and five Town/Parish councils in England and 35 councils in Wales. All these jurisdictions have approved a GMO-free resolution, bringing the total UK population living in areas with a GMO-free policy to 14 million.

More than 500 cities in Italy have also taken a position against the use of genetically engineered organisms in agriculture. The combined area of those communities that have already signed a resolution against GMOs and those that recently have indicated they wish to ban GMOs means that nearly 80 percent of Italy's territory is declared GMO-free, Friends of the Earth says.

Eight out of the nine Austrian provinces have now indicated that they want to go GMO-free. Over 100 municipalities have also signed a GMO-free resolution. The region of Upper Austria has passed a law making it a GMO-free zone. Five other provincial parliaments - Salzburg, Tirol, Burgenland, Steirmark and Lower Austria - have also demanded their governments to declare their provinces GMO-free.

In Belgium, 39 communities in the Flemish speaking part of the country and 81 communities in the French speaking part have declared themselves GMO-free.

Currently, 40 out of the 54 Greek prefectures have voted to declare their areas GMO-free, and nine more are in the process of doing so. The prefecture of Rhodope and the Drama Kavala - Xanthi County have joined the European Network of GM-Free regions.

In the Alpine region, the Bio-region ALPE ADRIA, covers the whole of Slovenia, the Austrian provinces of Carinthia and Styria, and the Italian provinces of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto. In June 2003, a joint GMO-free statement was signed by the presidents of organic farmers' associations from these five Alpine areas.

Friends of the Earth Europe has launched a new website - www.gmofree-europe.org - to highlight the various European GM-free initiatives.

The European Union has passed tracing and labeling legislation in prepartion for lifting its de facto five year long moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops.

But in spite of this development, pressured by its own biotechnology companies, the United States has escalated trans-Atlantic trade tensions by launching a formal dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over European reluctance to plant engineered crops.

soy

Many genetically modified crops are designed to resist herbicides. On the left is a crop of soybeans engineered by Monsanto to be resistant to the Monsanto herbicide Roundup; no Roundup was applied so it is overgrown with grass. On the right the same variety of soybeans is free of grass after Roundup was applied. (Photo courtesy Monsanto)
Friends of the Earth Europe views the Bush administration of "using the secretive and undemocratic WTO to force-feed" genetically modified food to Europe and the rest of the world.

The USA, Canada and Argentina started the WTO dispute on May 13, 2003 claiming that the de facto moratorium on GM products in Europe was harming the livelihoods of their farmers.

But the dispute ground to a halt after the parties could not decide who should sit on the WTO panel and the European Commission signaled its intent to break the moratorium.

The WTO process is secretive. The panel will take evidence from both sides in secret, with no official involvement from the public. It is expected to come to a conclusion at the end of 2004. An appeal is then likely to take place before the final verdict some time next year. If Europe loses, it will either face severe financial penalties or be forced to allow more GM foods onto the market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains that genetically modified foods and crops pose no safety hazards and therefore should not be restricted anywhere in the world. In the United States, they are subjected to no formal testing before they are planted experimentally nor do they undergo safety testing before they are marketed to the public.



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