ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
3 March 2003


Press Release (For Immediate Release)

MEP slams GM "polluted pays" proposals

Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales Euro MP Jill Evans has reacted angrily to draft proposals by Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler that would place the responsibility of avoiding GM contamination firmly on farmers, organic producers and seed suppliers instead of GM companies.

The draft communication on the "Co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops", which addresses the mixing of GM crops and non-GM crops resulting from cross-pollination, seed impurities and other phenomena or practises, will be discussed tomorrow by Environment Ministers and on Wednesday by the college of Commissioners.

Reacting to the proposals the all-Wales MEP who has been a prominent anti-GM campaigner said:

"The Communication argues that the responsibility for co-existence measures such as buffer zones or pollen barriers "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 approach would turn the "polluter pays" principle upside down. Instead of those who produce and use GMOs being responsible for what they do, the conventional and organic farmers would be expected to prevent GMO contamination. It's crazy that we should expect the polluted instead of the polluter to have to pay.

"I am urging the governments of Europe and the European Commission to go for strict legislation on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. The legislation should require producers and users of GMOs to take effective measures to prevent the unintended presence of their GMOs in other products. This is in fact what the European Parliament proposed back in July of last year when it adopted very clear and precise amendments to the proposed Regulation on genetically modified food and feed.

"The Commission and the Council of Ministers, which so far have rejected these amendments, should seriously reconsider them in the light of the new co-existence debate. Once it has been established that producers and users of GMOs have the joint responsibility to prevent GMO contamination, it will also become clear that those who cause GMO contamination are liable for any resulting damage.

"I am extremely concerned at the content of Mr. Fischler's communication which outlines the measures the Commission envisage. GMO contamination poses a serious threat not only to the consumers' freedom of choice but also the sustainability and diversity of agriculture in Wales and Europe."

Jill Evans MEP is Leader of Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales in the European Parliament and has been a leading campaigner against Genetically Modified Organisms in the European Parliament and in Wales. She was a prominent figure in campaigns to oppose the planting of GM crops in Pembrokeshire and Flintshire and is likely to be called as a witness in the trial of Rowan Tilley and Yvonne Davies in Chester Crown Court from 31st March who took part in protests against planting GM crops in Flintshire in July 2001.

Ends (Monday, 3rd March 2003)

For further information please contact Llyr Hughes Griffiths on 01437 779042 or 07977 444978


Press Background Briefing -

1. What is GMO contamination and why is it a problem?

In 2002, the European Environment Agency published a report that described several genetically modified crops, in paricular oilseed rape, as "high risk crops for pollen mediated gene flow from crops to crop and from crop to wild relatives". The same report showed that certain genetically modified crops can transfer their transgenic traits to conventional varieties that are grown over 4km away[1].

English Nature, an official advisory body to the UK government, warned in 2002 that altered genes can turn plants into weeds that are harder to control and "that farmers might have to use different and more environmental damaging herbicides to control them". The extensive study showed that genes from separate GM varieties can accumulate ('gene stacking') in plants and that in Canada these plants are now resistant to several widely used herbicides. In effect these plants are on the road to becoming nuisance weeds.[2]

There is agreement among all stakeholder that consumers should have the right to choose whether to eat GM food or not. But GMO pollution threatens this right to choose. If GM plants may be cultivated at large scale and without any measures preventing GM contamination, all food and feed grown in the European Union will sooner or later be more or less GM. The non-GM option may be gone forever. The biotech industry is well aware of this problem. Dale Adolphe, previous President of the pro-GM Canola (oilseed rape) Council of Canada and now head of the Canadian Seed Growers Association, said in April 2002: "The total acreage devoted to GM crops around the world is expanding. That may be what eventually brings the debate to an end. It's a hell of a thing to say that the way we win is don't give the consumer a choice, but that might be it."

In 2002 the European Commission acknowledged for the first time that GMO contamination is a problem. The Communication on "Life Sciences and Biotechnology" (COM(2002) 27) emphasised the need to develop measures to facilitate the co-existence of different agricultural practices "in order to fully apply the principle of freedom of choice for economic operators and to safeguard sustainability and diversity of agriculture in Europe"[3]. The Commission, however, seemed to be reluctant to touch the issue and seemed to prefer Member States to deal with it. The Commission's reluctance came as no surprise given that, in May 2002, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), an official agency of the European Union, concluded in a report that "co-existence (.) might be economically difficult because of the costs and complexities of changes associated".  The JRC calculated that measures to prevent genetic contamination may result in additional costs of up to 41% of current production prices[4]. A more recent study by the Öko-Institut and the Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau in Germany also concluded that high costs will be involved if the freedom of choice for agricultural producers to stay GM free is to be protected. The researchers are warning that long legal battles between farmers may occur over these costs.[5] Another report on co-existence from a Danish expert group suggests that under conditions of a limited GMO share (10%) and a general threshold of 1% for adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops, co-existence can be ensured for most crops in Denmark (i.e., beet, maize, potatoes, barley, wheat, oats, triticale, rye, lupine, broad beans and peas). For some crops current farming practices may need to be modified, whereas in other cases difficulties with co-existence are virtually non-existent under these conditions. However, for oilseed rape, as well as for seed production of certain crops, ensuring co-existence may be more problematic and further evaluation is required, the researchers concluded.[6]

2. Why is Community legislation needed to prevent GMO contamination?

Commissioner Fischler's communication on 'Co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops' considers mainly two options how the issue of GMO contamination may be addressed: by soft law measures at Member State level (option 1) or by Community legislation (option 2). The Communication concludes "that an approach based on subsidiarity appears to be most suitable".

Although the Commission seems to favour option 1, there can be little doubt, that under current EU law Member States are not in a position to address GMO contamination adequately. The main reason for this is that under the current Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release of GMOs, Member States must not impose any restrictions on the use of authorised GMOs for any purposes other than the protection of the environment or human health[7]. Thus, current EU law does not allow Member States to require buffer zones, safety distances or pollen barriers simply to protect the economic interests of conventional / organic farmers, or to protect sustainable agriculture (in order to increase the share of organic products) or agricultural diversity. What is therefore needed is co-existence legislation at Community level.

3. Community co-existence legislation

At the end of last year, the Council reached political agreement regarding the traceability and labelling of genetically modified (GM) food and feed. The second reading is expected to take place in July 2003. Council and the Commission rejected three important amendments on co-existence adopted by Parliament in the first reading.

According to Parliament's amendments (No. 14, 43, 88) notifiers and users of GMOs are required to take effective measures to prevent the unintended presence of their GMOs in other products. These amendments could serve as a model for community legislation on co-existence. However, since the new Regulation will deal with food and fodder crops only, additional legislation addressing the co-existence of non-food/feed crops and organic/conventional crops should complement the regulatory biosafety framework. The EU biosafety framework should aim at the protection of human health, the environment and the consumers' right to choose.
[1] see For an overview of contamination cases, see

[2] see

[3] see

[4] see

[5] see

[6] see

[7] see

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