International News

2015-05-04 |

Campaign against glyphosate grows in Latin America

Social organizations and scientific researchers ask for ban on the herbicide

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, the campaign has intensified in Latin America to ban the herbicide, which is employed on a massive scale on transgenic crops.
In a March 20 publication, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that the world’s most widely used herbicide is probably carcinogenic to humans, a conclusion that was based on numerous studies.
Social organizations and scientific researchers in Latin America argue that thanks to the report by the WHO’s cancer research arm, governments no longer have an excuse not to intervene, after years of research on the damage caused by glyphosate to health and the environment at a regional and global level.
“We believe the precautionary principle should be applied, and that we should stop accumulating studies and take decisions that could come too late,” said Javier Souza, coordinator of the Latin American Pesticide Action Network (RAP-AL).
The precautionary principle states that even if a cause-effect relationship has not been fully established scientifically, precautionary measures should be taken if the product or activity may pose a threat to health or the environment.
“We advocate a ban on glyphosate which should take effect in the short term with restrictions on purchasing, spraying and packaging,” Souza, who is also the head of the Centre for Studies on Appropriate Technologies in Argentina (CETAAR), said.

2015-04-29 |

What's your vision for organic in Europe to 2030?

IFOAM EU IFOAM EU

As organic moves beyond a niche, the movement needs to take stock of what organic has become and what the future holds, especially to be prepared for political developments, environmental challenges and market trends. IFOAM EU therefore initiated a participatory vision process to identify where the organic sector and movement want to be in 2030 and what strategies are needed to get there.

The vision process started in 2013 and the feedback from the movement has led to two vision statements. It is now time to select what vision best suits the European organic movement's goals - and we need your help to do so. The results will be published at the 9th European Organic Congress, where we will begin to work on strategy development. Join us! More information on www.organic-congress-ifoameu.org

2015-04-27 |

EU Commission approves 19 genetically engineered plants for import - Testbiotech to file a complaint

Never before has the EU Commission authorised so many genetically engineered plants for import on just one day. Last Friday, 19 genetically plants were granted market authorisation, 17 for usage in food and feed, and 2 are for flowers (carnations). 10 of the plants approved for food and feed are new authorisations, the others are re-approvals. The overall number of genetically engineered plants that can be imported into the EU for use in food and feed has now risen to 58. Testbiotech plans to file a complaint to set a precedent case.

“The risks of the genetically engineered plants are not investigated sufficiently and the combinatorial risks factors of these plants if mixed in a diet have not been assessed at all,” says Christoph Then for Testbiotech. “Neglecting to properly assess the risks of genetically engineered plants coupled with mass-authorisation is increasing risks and uncertainties in the food chain.”

Experts from several EU Member States have also criticised the deficiencies in EU risk assessment carried out by the by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, the EU Commission ignored this criticism in its decision making process. Instead, it is suggesting new regulations that would allow each Member State to ban the import of genetically engineered plants. They would not, however, be allowed to use arguments such as health risks to justify their decision. Consequently, it would be almost impossible to defend such national bans against legal challenges.

There are substantial uncertainties about the risk assessment of these plants.

2015-04-24 |

Genetic Engineering in the UK General Election Campaign

By Mgimelfarb via Wikimedia Commons By Mgimelfarb via Wikimedia Commons

The UK General Election campaigns are very much underway. Three issues have dominated the election so far, the debate around funding for the National Health Service (NHS), immigration and of course, the economy. As The Independent newspaper reported, the matter of GM is being left until after the election [1]. So, where do the parties stand on genetically modified (GM) food in general? Despite the mostly anti-GM British public, the two largest parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are mostly in agreement on GM [2].

CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Owen Paterson (the former Secretary of State for environment, food and rural affairs) caused a political storm a couple of years ago when he stated his outright support for GM, as well as openly referring to anti-GM activists and other environmentalists as ‘the Greenblob’ and ‘wicked’. He argued that as a result of the anti-GM movement, which has prevented the introduction of ‘Golden Rice’ (a GM grain) around the world, ‘over the last 15 years…7 million children have gone blind or died’ – a claim wholly without evidence [3]. The remarks saw a fellow Conservative MP accuse him of being an ‘industry puppet’, despite this, it seems that Prime-Minister (PM) and Conservative Party leader supports Paterson’s position on GM. He even stated that he was ‘perfectly happy’ to feed his family GM food [4]. The PM office further stated that there is ‘no credible basis’ for the claims that GM crops were not safe [5]. More recently, Paterson’s successor Elizabeth Truss has argued in favour of the introduction of GM foods because they are more ‘eco-friendly’. This suggests that Conservative policy on GM is not going to change any time soon. The Party Manifesto simply states, ‘we will support a science-led approach to GM-crops’.

LABOUR PARTY
The Labour Party are largely in agreement with the Conservatives. In their Feeding the Nation report (2013) it is stated that biotechnology ‘can be one of the tools used to ensure better resilience in the UK food chain, and to reduce environmental damage’ [6]. A further statement reiterated that ‘GM may have a role in UK food security and environmental protection’ before going on to say that ‘public views – informed by science – must also be heard’. This suggests some recognition of public concern about GM, while at the same time, the common assumption that once the public comes to understand the science they will have no reason to oppose GM. The current shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs stated that ‘GM foods are a scientific issue’ thus again failing to grasp the environmental and socio-economic concerns around GM. The matter is entirely overlooked in the party manifesto.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS (LIB DEMS)
The Lib Dems – the junior coalition partner in the last government – although have no statement on GM in their party manifesto, previous statements suggest that they are largely in agreement with the other two parties on GM. In 2013 Lady Parminter (the Lib Dem spokesperson on food, the environment and rural affairs) said in the House of Lords (the British second chamber) that Paterson was ‘cheer leading for the GM industry’. Despite that, she further stated that ‘Lib Dems are not opposed to GM’ and that it ‘should be a science-led decision’ [7]. In 2010 The Guardian remarked on how the Lib Dems ‘dodge the issue’ of GM completely by simply asking for ‘another debate’, this seems to be the case again in 2015 [8].

GREEN PARTY
There is no ambiguity in the Green Party manifesto. They state in no uncertain terms that ‘genetic engineering will not solve the problems created by industrialised agriculture and it may add to them’ [9]. They explain how GM crops simply ‘secure large profits for a few multinational companies’ and that ‘the use of GM crops in poor countries has proved disastrous to farming communities’. If elected, the Greens promise to ‘uphold the rights of consumers, farmers and local authorities to choose GM-free food and to establish GM-free zones’.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY (SNP)
Although there is no mention of GM in the manifesto, it is thought that the SNP share this anti-GM stance with the Greens. The SNP are concerned about, what they call ‘Downing Street’s pro-GM agenda’, which represents yet another divide between Scotland and the Westminster government [10]. MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) Rob Gibson, the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee stated in 2014 that, ‘Paterson’s [the former Secretary for State] failure to explain to the Scottish Government why he did not represent Scotland’s interests despite agreeing to do so is extremely disappointing’. The EU ‘opt out’ policy, Gibson argued, ‘gives too much power to GM companies and puts them on an equal status to Member States vis-à-vis GM issues’.

UKIP (UNITED KINGDOM INDEPENDENCE PARTY)
The UKIP are a right-wing party whose main objective is to bring about the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. In their manifesto they offer an ‘open vote’ – individual MPs could vote at will rather than be subject to party whips – on the GM foods [11]. It is unclear how this, if implemented, would play out. UKIP have however spoken positively about GM before and support ‘further research into GM food’ but they are also in favour of the labelling of GM products [12]. (Joseph Dodd)

[1] www.independent.co.uk/news/science/trials-of-gm-super-spud-scheduled-after-election-due-to-public-sensitivity-10131345.html

[2] yougov.co.uk/news/2014/02/21/many-britain-remain-sceptical-gm-foods/

[3] www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/greenpolitics/11427506/Owen-Paterson-the-Green-Blob-is-threatening-lives-in-Africa.html

[4] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346233/I-WOULD-feed-family-GM-food-says-Cameron-tries-win-public-issue.html

[5] www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/10132218/Downing-St-refuses-to-say-whether-David-Cameron-would-eat-GM-food.html

[6] www.yourbritain.org.uk/uploads/editor/files/Feeding_the_nation.pdf

[7] www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/198b9a3c-d9bc-11e2-98fa-00144feab7de.html

[8] www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/apr/15/general-election-2010-labour-tory-lib-dem-manifesto

[9] www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf

[10] www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2004/mar/snp-force-vote-gm-crops

[11] www.bbc.com/news/election-2015-32318683

[12] www.ukipmeps.org/articles_716_Stuart-Agnew-on-pesticide-ban-GMOs-and-cannibal-chickens.html

2015-04-23 |

EU proposal on GMO food criticised by Greenpeace, industry

Juncker breaks promise Juncker breaks promise

The European Commission's proposed new rules on the approval of food derived from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), published on Wednesday (22 April), have immediately attracted criticism from both environment NGOs and the agribusiness sector. For the first time, the proposal formally allows EU countries to opt-out from the Europe-wide approval system.
(.....)
Only one GM crop is currently grown in Europe, Monsanto's maize MON810, in Spain and Portugal.

But the new proposal attracted criticism by Greenpeace, which said the proposed reform would still allow the Commission to authorise the import of GMOs, even when a majority of national governments, the European Parliament and the public oppose them.

“The Commission’s proposal is a farce because it leaves the current undemocratic system untouched. It would allow the Commission to continue ignoring major opposition to GM crops, despite president Juncker’s promise to allow a majority of EU countries to halt Commission decisions on GMOs," said Greenpeace EU's food policy director Franziska Achterberg.

2015-04-21 |

EU clears path for 17 new GM foods

Seventeen new genetically modified food products will be authorised for import to Europe before the end of May in a significant acceleration of biotech trade, the Guardian has learned.

2015-04-21 |

US forced to import corn as shoppers demand organic non-GM food

A growing demand for organics, and the near-total reliance by U.S. farmers on genetically modified corn and soybeans, is driving a surge in imports from other nations where crops largely are free of bioengineering.

2015-04-21 |

US farmers turn to GMO-free crops to boost income

This is an interesting article about a small but significant farmer shift from GMO to non-GMO crops in the GMO heartland of Iowa.

2015-04-21 |

BÖLW fordert Transparenz bei Gentechnikzulassung

Junckers Pläne stoßen beim BÖLW auf Kritik (Foto: European People's Party, Lizenz: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) Junckers Pläne stoßen beim BÖLW auf Kritik (Foto: European People"s Party, Lizenz: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Ein Vorschlag des EU-Kommissionspräsidenten Jean Claude Juncker sieht vor, dass in Zukunft jedes EU-Land selbst entscheiden kann, ob Gentechnikpflanzen für die Lebens- und Futtermittel importiert werden dürfen oder nicht. Dieses Vorgehen kritisierte der Bund Ökologischer Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BÖLW) scharf: „Der Großteil der Bevölkerung, der Landwirte und Lebensmittelhersteller will keine Gentechnik auf dem Acker oder auf dem Teller! Statt sich immer absurdere Vorschläge für Flickenteppich-Lösungen auszudenken, müssen die politisch Verantwortlichen endlich an die Wurzel des Problems und die Mängel des unzureichenden EU-Zulassungsverfahren für Gentechnik-Pflanzen beheben und das EU-Parlament an den Entscheidungen beteiligen!“, kommentierte der Geschäftsführer des BÖLW Röhrig den von der EU-Kommission diskutierten Entwurf.

Röhrig bezeichnete diesen als bloßes Ablenkungsmanöver, welcher das Gentechnikzulassungsverfahren weder demokratischer noch besser mache. Außerdem beurteilte er die vergleichende Risikoprüfung, die Gentechnikpflanzen derzeit durchlaufen müssen, um in der EU zugelassen zu werden, als veraltet. Ein weiterer Kritikpunkt läge in der Industrienähe der zuständigen EU-Prüfbehörde EFSA.

Erwartet werde von Bundeslandwirtschaftsminister Christian Schmidt, dass er sich im Sinne der Bürger und eines bereits vor längerem gefassten Entschlusses des Bundesrates mit aller Kraft für eine Verbesserung des Gentechnik-Zulassungsverfahrens einsetze. Der Bundeslandwirtschaftsminister müsse zudem konkrete Vorschläge vorlegen, wie die verpflichtende Kennzeichnung tierischer Produkte, die mit Gentechnik-Futtermitteln hergestellt wurden, umgesetzt werden soll. Vor allem im Hinblick auf das geplante Freihandelsabkommen TTIP sei es noch wichtiger endlich Transparenz in der Importzulassung von Gentechnikpflanzen herzustellen.

2015-04-16 |

USA: 2015 The Year GMO Labeling Began

March 2015 was an eventful month for the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. The two tempests stirred up by recent news and all the other issues in this long-running debate look to be headed for some kind of resolution this year – although the two sides are no closer today than they’ve ever been.

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