FRANCE NOT READY TO END BAN/SOUTH AFRICA HAS BEGUN TO QUESTION GM HEALTH AND SAFETY
News Update From The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
There have been several international developments related to genetically engineered foods this week.
On Tuesday, a United Nations envoy made statements very critical of genetically engineered foods. He questioned their safety and even the need for genetically engineered foods. The first article below from Reuters titled "U.N. food envoy questions safety of gene crops" will provide further details.
South Africa has begun to question the "health and safety aspects of using GM products and about the consequences for our international trade." The second article below titled "S.African parliament to review law on GM foods" discusses the concerns that are being raised.
The European Union (EU) is deadlocked on the new proposed regulations to label genetically engineered foods. In May 1998, the EU put labeling requirements on soybeans and corn and then placed a moratorium on any new products coming into the 15 European Union nations.
The intention of the new proposed EU regulations is to implement much stronger labeling requirements and then remove the moratorium.
However, when EU farm ministers met earlier this week, they could not come to an agreement on the threshold levels of contamination before labeling is required. Some counties want one percent while others want zero percent. EU environmental ministers will meet on Thursday to discuss matters further.
France in particular indicates it will oppose any attempt to remove the moratorium until labeling and traceability regulations are in force.
Article three below titled "EU deadlocked on GMO food control, mulls compromise" and article four titled "France says not ready to end ban on new gene crops" will provide further details.
As time passes, more and more countries are questioning the safety of genetically engineered foods on human health and the environment. Labeling laws are continuing to be implemented in additional countries and existing labeling laws are being tightened in many nations.
The biotech industry is very concerned. And now their control of United States regulations (or lack thereof) is under direct attack in Oregon with Measure 27. The last thing the biotech industry probably wanted to hear was a United Nations envoy questioning the entire need for genetically engineered foods.
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
PO Box 55699
Seattle, WA 98155
Web Site: http://www.thecampaign.org
Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."
U.N. food envoy questions safety of gene crops
GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights envoy Tuesday questioned the safety of genetically modified food and said big corporations had more to gain from its use than poor countries fighting starvation.
Jean Ziegler, the U.N. special investigator on the right to food, said he put the views of nongovernmental organizations, which say humans are at risk if they consume GM food over a period of time, before that of the World Health Organization, which says it is safe.
"All the nutritionalists, the highly qualified biologists at these NGOs say there is a risk for the human body over the long term," he told journalists. "They say we have not reached a security level and I believe them."
Hunger-stricken countries in southern Africa are torn between accepting GM food aid, mainly from the United States, and concern about its safety and its impact on agriculture and biodiversity.
U.N. agencies, including the WHO, estimate 14.4 people from Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are threatened by famine. Zimbabwe reversed its initial rejection of GM food aid, but Zambia is still refusing to accept it.
"I'm against the theory of the multinational corporations who say if you are against hunger you must be for GMO. That's wrong," Ziegler said, "There is plenty of natural, normal good food in the world to nourish the double of humanity."
Ziegler said farmers accepting GM seeds would be forced to continue buying them "forever" from big biotechnology corporations.
"There is absolutely no justification to produce genetically modified food except the profit motive and the domination of the multinational corporations," said Ziegler, a Swiss former socialist member of parliament.
The envoy reports on the world food situation to the Geneva-based U.N.
Human Rights Commission.
10/15/02 08:51 ET
S.African parliament to review law on GM foods
By Brendan Boyle
CAPE TOWN, Oct 15 (Reuters) - South Africa's parliament plans an urgent discussion on whether the country has been rushed into accepting genetically modified (GM) foods and needs to amend its laws, a senior legislator said on Tuesday.
Gwen Mahlangu, chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on environmental affairs, told Reuters she would convene a two-day workshop this year to review the country's legislation on GM food production and use.
"We are concerned both about the health and safety aspects of using GM products and about the consequences for our international trade," she said.
A number of South Africa's neighbours, facing severe food shortages, have raised fears over GM food aid. Zambia has conducted its own tests and will decide next week if it is fit for humans.
Mahlangu said the legislation that has allowed South Africa to pioneer the use of GM crops in the region was prepared by the apartheid government and rushed into law months after the election of the first democratic government.
"In 1994 it was just too soon for the new government to be able to apply their minds adequately to the new legislation. If we feel the legislation was rushed, we need to bring back public participation and amend the laws," she said.
Mahlangu said submissions at a hearing of her committee earlier on Tuesday had shown that government departments were at loggerheads over the issue.
"What came out very sharply is that there is no certainty about what the future holds for us if we go the route of GMs.
"We don't have the controls in place.... It is a very dicey situation when you can't say to people what they should expect in 10 years time if they allow GMs now," she said.
South Africa is the only member of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) to licence the production of transgenic crops modified to include genetic components from other organisms that do the job of pesticides.
Some SADC member countries have criticised South Africa for breaking ranks with the regional opposition to GM crops. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have been hesitant to accept GM grains even in the face of a threatening regional famine.
Zambia has rejected all GM foods while the others say grains must be milled to prevent them being used as seed and thus contaminating existing strains.
Mahlangu said a Department of Trade and Industry official had told the committee on Tuesday that GM grains were used only for cattle feed and not for human consumption.
She said he was contradicted by a Department of Agriculture official who told the committee they were also used for humans.
"If we have trade and industry as one of the parties to the monitoring of this thing, not knowing what the crops are being used for, we face a very serious situation," she said.
Haidee Swanby of the Biowatch environmental pressure group said the organisation was delighted by the committee's decision.
"We really believe that the issue hasn't been researched enough, that there has not been enough transparency in drafting the legislation.
"It's not that we think genetic engineering is something evil that must be banned, but it is such a potentially explosive technology that we need to go more slowly," she told Reuters.
10/15/02 12:36 ET
EU deadlocked on GMO food control, mulls compromise
By Jeremy Smith
LUXEMBOURG, Oct 14 (Reuters) - EU farm ministers dug in their heels on plans to control genetically modified food on Monday, with little hope of progress towards lifting an effective ban on GM products until at least next month.
For more than three years, EU farmers have been unable to grow or sell most of the GM crops commonly used in the United States after a blocking minority of member states said they would oppose any new permits, pending tougher regulations.
Although deadlock still hangs over the bloc's 15 states, there may be a hope of compromise on thresholds for the amount of GM material accidentally occurring in food and animal feed.
"The picture is very blurred today. There are five or six delegations advocating zero percent (threshold), and five or six advocating one percent or less, on the GMOs that have scientific certificates but no formal approval," said an EU diplomat.
"It was a very useful debate but one that confirms the difficulty we have. We will come back to this at the next meeting in November and try to reach a decision...and draw some conclusions from the very different answers we got today."
He was speaking to reporters after a monthly meeting of EU agriculture ministers, or their representatives, in Luxembourg.
The EU has passed tough new criteria on labelling and traceability, which Brussels hopes will convince some of the more sceptical nations to agree to authorising new GM crops.
Feed products which would be candidates for GMO (GM organism) labelling include soymeal, corn gluten and refined products such as sugar and starch where DNA cannot be traced.
The European Commission is keen to see the moratorium lifted and GM authorisations begin again, at least for the 10 or so applications still pending.
This would pave the way for GM products, dubbed "Frankenstein foods" by concerned consumers, to make their way into the EU's food chain.
On the negotiating table are proposals for a maximum one percent threshold for the presence of GM material, intended or unintended, in food and feed. This is opposed by nearly half of member states, who insist on lower levels.
States with the hardest line in the push for zero tolerance for the unintended presence of GM material, the area of most consumer concern due to difficulties involved in monitoring the food chain, are Belgium, Austria, Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg.
Denmark, as current EU president, has offered a compromise for a two to three year transition on unintended GM presence for the handful of products awaiting approval.
Commission officials said this idea stood a good chance of seeing agreement next month, as did a proposal to lower the one percent threshold under certain circumstances.
"People have realised the subject has to be addressed, it was the most positive discussion we have had in (Agriculture) Council on GMOs," said one.
"The moratorium was not discussed but everyone understands legislation is a next step to lifting the moratorium," she said.
Already this week, updated legislation comes into force that requires products containing more than one percent of GM material to be labelled. New GM goods will have to undergo a full risk assessment before receiving a 10-year authorisation which would then have to be renewed at the end of that period.
The Commission was upbeat despite the lack of agreement.
"There was substantial agreement on the thrust of the legislation. Hopefully, we will be able to fine-tune and adjust positions with the hope of reaching agreement at the next (Council) meeting," said EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne.
"There is no question of lifting the moratorium this week but we are moving inexorably in that direction. Inevitably, there will be a lifting of the moratorium but when, we are not clear," he told a news conference.
But Herve Gaymard, France's Agriculture Minister, was less sure on the timing. "The (consumer) fear is there. We have to be extremely cautious," he told reporters.
Asked if tighter laws would bring agreement, he said: "We will see how things develop. We will have to take a decision but it will not have to be taken for nine to 10 months."
Despite the attempts by Brussels to tighten GMO legislation, environmental
groups are still concerned that the new laws are not tough enough, and
claim there may be loopholes which give the material a "back-door" entry
into EU markets.
10/14/02 13:35 ET
France says not ready to end ban on new gene crops
PARIS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - France on Tuesday repeated it would oppose any removal of an effective European Union ban on developing new genetically modified crop strains until precise labelling rules for GM products come into effect, which could take several months.
"France will not change its position on the moratorium as long as regulations on labelling and traceability have not come into force," a spokeswoman for the French environment ministry told Reuters.
For more than three years, EU farmers have been unable to grow or sell most of the GM crops commonly used in the United States after a blocking minority of member states, led by France, opposed any new permits pending tougher regulations.
EU environment ministers are due to meet in Luxembourg on Thursday to discuss the regulations, which are expected to compel food producers to clearly indicate, above a certain threshold still to be decided, whether foodstuffs contain GM organisms.
If the EU environment ministers reach a deal this week, the new labelling rules could be implemented very quickly, paving the way for an end to the moratorium.
But French Farm Minister Herve Gaymard said on Monday it could take another year to reach a satisfactory labelling deal.
More than 15 groups of anti-GM campaigners, including Greenpeace and radical farmer Jose Bove's Confederation Paysanne, have called for a demonstration at the environment ministry in Paris on Tuesday at 1600 GMT.
"Keeping the moratorium is necessary as long as the problems raised
by GMOs to organic and conventional farmers are not taken into account,"
they said in a statement.
10/15/02 07:56 ET
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