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COMMENTARY: The “Black Potato” War: Floodgates Busted Open On GM Crops?

  • March 4th, 2010
  • Posted by 7thmin

fields-resize3.jpgThe newly reconstituted European Commission has acted quickly (2.3.10) to push through decisions permitting use of genetically modified potatoes and maize – revelling in failure by the European Council to block it.

Echoing concerns of consumer groups, Greenpeace has declared  the move will put the environment and public health at unacceptable risk.

LINES OF AUTHORITY, AND CONFLICT

The executive Commission said it acted under new decision-making rules, after elected political leaders in national governments, failed to deliver a qualified majority on the issue – in the national Ministers’ legislative “house” within the EU, the Council.

It has acted to endorse the use of GM substances in manufacturing products such as paper (as in the case of the Amflora potato not destined to be eaten by people), and including the production of animal feed.

That will permit controlled imports.

As for whether genetically modified plants can be grown by farmers in Europe; the Commission intends that decision to be taken by individual member governments, with crops to be raised under specific environmental controls.

It has insisted as always that its decisions are validated by rigorous science.

Greenpeace  however has raised the prospect of a “science fiction” horror –  accusing the EC of trying to bury scientific evidence that questions the safety of the GM potato now set to be approved, arguing it could aid bacterial resistance to life-saving antibiotics.

COMMISSION ANNOUNCES

This is the announcement by the Commission, 2.3.10:

“The European Commission announced today its intention to come up with a proposal by the summer to allow more choice to Member States in deciding whether to cultivate GMO’s.

“Under the current legal framework, as decided by the Council and the European Parliament, the Commission adopted today two decisions concerning the Genetically Modified Amflora potato: the first authorises the cultivation of Amflora in the EU for industrial use, and the second relates to the use of Amflora’s starch by-products as feed.

“The European Commission also adopted today three decisions on the placing on the market of three GM maize products for food and feed uses but not for cultivation.

“All five authorisations were subjected to the highest scrutiny, ensuring all concerns regarding the presence of an antibiotic resistance marker gene are fully addressed.

“The Decision to authorise the cultivation of Amflora is the end of a process which started in Sweden in January 2003 and is based on a considerable volume of sound science.”

The Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli, reflected a certain political zeal, in the  emphatic political tone of EC decisions on GM, saying “responsible innovation” would be his guiding principle.

“There were no new scientific issues that merited further assessment.  Scientific issues, particularly those concerning safety, have been fully addressed”, he said.

OPPONENTS’ POSITION

This is a statement from Greenpeace Europe (I2.3.10), at Brussels:

“The European Commission has today authorised the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) crop for the first time since 1998.

“Health Commissioner Dalli, in agreement with President Barroso, used the so-called written procedure to authorise this crop so as to avoid a debate in the College of Commissioners.

“The genetically engineered potato (known as Amflora) developed by German agro-chemical company BASF contains a gene that confers resistance to certain antibiotics…

The Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, Marco Contiero, said The Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, with his new Commission, had been able to steam-roller a “cold-blooded approval that flies in the face of science, public opinion and EU law.”

“The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have warned about the ‘critical importance’ of the antibiotics affected by the Amflora potato”, Mr Contiero said.

COMMENT

farm-pic-april-07.jpgIt is high-stakes over environmental and health issues in the GM debate.

The main drift of informed opinion is that once GM crops are in, chances of containing let alone eradicating them are at best very difficult.

In the present case the EC says its decision will be for ten years, and that rules for growing the Amflora  potato will include “cultivation conditions to prevent the possibility that GM potatoes will remain in the field.”

If the ten-year rule is applied to cultivation, it would look to be a generous head-start to any plant that’s turned malevolent and is making a break for the wild, to set itself up as a weed.

A visit to a potato field after mechanised harvesting will show up the difficulty, and expense of removing all potatoes – potatoes left behind everywhere.

The enthusiasm for these new decisions by  the regular leadership of the European  Commission of itself is drawing special attention.

It can be seen as a reflection of the organisation’s steadfast faith in conscientious science and its own tradition n of solid research. If the science has approved this, why shouldn’t the EC, and get economic benefits for society? That appears to be the message.

Yet it needs strictest scrutiny.

While there’s been no talk of special blandishments or bullying in this case, very powerful industrial firms and their fraternal organisations have been lobbying on it for several years, and as always must be held to public account.

The European Commission is legitimate because appointed by the elected European Parliament, though the Parliament once had to dismiss a Commission, in the 1990s, over a corruption scandal.

In cases like this highly strategic debate on farming and food, with pressure on the European government from many quarters to take sides, decision-making more than ever needs to be transparent, ingenuous, consultative — above all respectful of the deepest concerns of citizens.

Reference

EUAustralia Online; “GMOs: Black potato getting too hot to handle”, 19.7.07; “Unwanted potatoes …”, 9.12.06.

EC, “Commission announces upcoming proposal on choice for Member States to cultivate or not GMO’s and approves 5 decisions on GMO’s”, Brussels, 2.3.10. IP/10/222.

EC, Backgrounders,  MEMO/10/58.http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm (4.3.10).

Greenpeace Europe, Media Release, “Barroso Commission authorises controversial GMO potato”, Brussels, 2.3.10. www.greenpeace.eu, (4.3.20).

Greenpeace, Backgrounder. www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/policy-papers-briefings/briefing-basf-gm-potato, (4.3.10).

Hervé Kempf and Philippe Ricard, L’innocuité de la pomme de terre transgénique mise en cause, (Innocence of the GM potato is being questioned), Le Monde, Brussels, 3.3.10. http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2010/03/03/

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