ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

6 March 2003


*Organic farmers to shoulder economic burden
*US building coalition to fight EU biotech policy
*Spain to approve controversial GMO maize seeds
*Push for GM crops defies public debate


Organic farmers to shoulder economic burden

By John Mason
FT, Published: March 5 2003

Europe's organic farmers will have to shoulder the economic burden of genetically modified crops being grown alongside conventional varieties, Friends of the Earth, the environmental pressure group, claimed on Wednesday.

Initial proposals to the European Commission from Franz Fischler, the EU agricultural commissioner, suggested the costs of "co-existence" through measures such as buffer strips to reduce cross-pollination should be borne by farmers hoping to benefit from a particular method of farming.


US building coalition to fight EU biotech policy

Source - Reuters Commodities News (Eng)
Thursday, March 06, 2003  03:01
By Doug Palmer

    WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - The Bush administration is trying to build an international coalition to overturn the European Union's moratorium on approvals of genetically-engineered foods and drugs, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said on Wednesday.     At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Zoellick faced tough questioning from the panel's top Republicans and Democrats about why the administration has not yet filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization against the moratorium.     "I'm trying to build a coalition on this," Zoellick said. "I don't want this to be just the U.S. versus EU. I want to try to have other countries with us."     U.S. farm groups bitterly oppose the EU's four-year-old EU moratorium on approving these biotechnology products, claiming they have lost $300 million in annual sales because of it.     Most American soybeans and one-third of the corn crop are now grown with plants engineered to control pests.     Several U.S. companies are also experimenting with new bio-corn that can produce pharmaceutical compounds used to treat diabetes and other illnesses.     Zoellick, who seven weeks ago told reporters he favored bringing a case, also argued on Wednesday that it would not be enough to just win a legal victory at the WTO.     "What we have to do is win the case about biotech in world opinion," Zoellick said.     Driving the EU's moratorium are consumer fears about the safety of the products, after a string of food scares ranging from mad cow disease to contaminated animal feed.     The United States says the crops are not only safe, but could potentially reduce world hunger by boosting crop yields and improve the environment by curbing pesticide use.
Without identifying any specific countries, Zoellick said he had talked to an African government minister this week about joining in a coalition with the United States.     Al Johnson, the United States' top agricultural trade negotiator, refused after the hearing to identify any other country that might join with the United States.     But "we know we won't be alone," he said.     In the face of persistent questioning by Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, Zoellick said he did not know how much longer it would take the administration to take action.     The EU has warned Washington that filing a case now would only deepen consumer mistrust of biotech goods.     Zoellick said at least one reason the Bush administration has not yet acted on the issue is current tensions with two key members of the European Union -- France and Germany -- which oppose invading Iraq to disarm its leader, Saddam Hussein.     However, he said there was no disagreement within the administration that the EU's moratorium should end.     Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, also pressed Zoellick to bring a case, saying he was "profoundly disappointed" that has not already happened.     On Tuesday, EU officials said the ban on biotech foods will remain in place at least until October.     The latest delay in lifting the moratorium was one more reason to bring a case to the WTO, Johnson said.     "I don't think we're in the mood of patience," he said.
Spain to approve controversial GMO maize seeds
Date Posted: 3/5/2003

El Pais via NewsEdge Corporation : Spain will be the first European country to approve new varieties of genetically modified foods since the introduction of the EU-wide moratorium on further approvals of the controversial technology. The country's agriculture ministry has said that the five new varieties, which belong to US biotechs Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer and French consortium Limagrain, will shortly be included on the official register of crop varieties and in the corresponding publication of the official state gazette.

The first hint came when Garcia Tejerina, the agriculture secretary, said that enough time has passed since the introduction of GMO maize to prove that it was safe. The five varieties, one of which has actually been sold for the last five years in Spain, are designed to protect against the European corn borer, which is a problem in certain regions of Spain.


Push for GM crops defies public debate

Sunday Herald

Executive and Westminister at loggerheads as GM applications pour in three months before end of national debate
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

THE government is preparing to give the green light to a flood of new applications for genetically modified (GM) crops at the same time as conducting a 'public debate' into whether Britain wants them.

The revelation has reinforced fears that the much-vaunted debate is no more than a public relations exercise designed to open up Britain to the GM multinationals. And it has infuriated the Scottish environment minister, Ross Finnie, who is now locked in battle with ministers in Westminster over the issue.

In the last six weeks, Monsanto, Bayer and other major biotech companies have lodged 18 applications with the European Union to introduce a huge new range of GM products. They include bids to import or grow GM potatoes, sugar beet, soybeans, maize, oilseed rape and cotton.Some of the crops incorporate controversial antibiotic resistance genes.

These are a worry because of the risk that they could transfer to humans and prevent antibiotics from combating lethal diseases.The burst of applications has been sparked by signs that the European moratorium on GM products might be about to end. The companies, deeply frustrated by opposition from France, Germany and other countries, are now anticipating the go-ahead to start marketing in Europe.

Two of the applications, which are being submitted under new EU procedures, have been made via the UK government. One application, from Monsanto, is for GM maize and the other, from Bayer CropScience, is for GM oilseed rape - similar to the crop grown in the trials that were so fiercely opposed in Scotland.

The applications couldn't have come at a more awkward time for the government because it has just launched a wide-ranging public debate on the safety of GM foods. It has promised to listen to any concerns that people might have before deciding on the commercial growing of GM crops.

Despite this, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has now told the Sunday Herald that it may come down in favour of some of the new applications.

'The government must meet its legal obligations and cannot avoid taking part in EU decisions when these come forward,' said a Defra spokesman.

'We will reach a view on these new applications on a case-by-case basis using the criteria laid down in the EU legislation, i.e. consideration of the possible risks to human health or the environment.'

It was 'a possibility', the spokesman accepted, that some would be approved.But Defra claimed that its position would not prejudice the public debate on GM.

'The debate is not a referendum on whether we should commercialise GM crops,' insisted the spokesman. 'It will help inform the government's final position on the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK.'

But this stance has clearly angered Finnie, who is anxious to ensure the integrity of the debate.

'We are entirely committed to a full public debate based on all available evidence,' said a spokesman for the minister.

'It would be premature therefore to consent to applications in advance of the outcome of that debate. We are discussing this with UK colleagues to agree a position consistent with European law to take to the European Council of Ministers.'

Last month, the Sunday Herald revealed that Finnie had intervened to urge Westminster to extend the public debate so that it would include the results of the farm-scale trials of GM crops. The UK environment secretary, Margaret Beckett subsequently announced a three-month extension to the debate.But GM critics regard the latest row as much more fundamental.

'This makes it feel like the government has already made up its mind and that could discourage people from taking part in the debate because it looks like bad faith,' said Sue Mayer director of the lobby group, Genewatch.'Ross Finnie is absolutely right. It is premature to consider these applications and he is obviously taking the public debate very seriously.

'We hope that in the discussions between Beckett and Finnie, she will realise that he is right.'

Mayer is a member of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which was set up by the government to advise ministers on GM.
Several members of the commission are concerned about Defra's position and the issue was discussed at a meeting on Thursday.

Jo Hunt, the director of Highlands and Islands GM Concern, pointed out that Finnie's position was consistent with the recent report on GM from the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee. It expressed concerns about the health implications of GM food and urged full toxicological testing to determine whether it was safe.

'Finnie needs to keep pushing Defra to delay these approvals, not only until after the elections in May, but throughout the forthcoming public debate on GM this summer and until a decision on GM is made in the Scottish Parliament in 2004,' urged Hunt.

"If he is serious about giving people in Scotland the choice between eating GM food or not, then he has to act now to prevent Defra from making that decision for us. Come on minister: wake up and smell the GM coffee!'

Hunt was sceptical, however, about whether Finnie would be able to persuade Defra to change its mind.

'Finnie's problem is that if Defra goes ahead and supports the approval of new GMs by the EU, there is no way that the Scottish Executive can then keep them out of Scotland,' he added.

'This is the weakness in the devolved system of deciding about GM food.'

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