Ministers open door for GMOs in organic food

12 June 2007

GM contamination in imports affects EU organic standard

Brussels, June 12th 2007 - At the Agriculture Council today EU Ministers decided to allow contamination of organic food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Ministers adopted a new law which allows organic food containing up to 0.9 percent "adventitious or technically unavoidable" GMO content to be classed and labelled as organic [1].

Environmental groups criticised the decision as it goes against the principle of consumer choice. Organic farming is the most competitive and environmentally friendly agricultural sector. In Europe it is creating new jobs and has wide public support.

Helen Holder, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said:
"Now that the EU has declared traces of genetic contamination in organic crops acceptable, organic farmers will find it increasingly difficult to keep their crops GM-free. The EU must urgently introduce cross-border legislation to protect organic and conventional farmers from genetic pollution."

The European Parliament and environmental groups had called for the threshold of contamination of organic food to be 0.1 percent, which is the lowest level at which genetically modified organisms can be technically detected.

"Contamination in some countries outside of Europe, where GMOs are grown without any controls, is now affecting the choice of European consumers. As the success of organic farming shows, people are ready to pay for higher quality food free of GMOs. The lax attitude towards contamination taken by the European Commission and some member states disregards the preferences of European consumers and may put the whole organic sector at risk. In practice, low levels of genetically modified material could start slipping into all organic food," Marco Contiero, Policy Officer at Greenpeace EU Unit, explained.

The European Commission is now preparing to review measures for the containment of commercially grown GM crops� - called "coexistence". A report on how countries are implementing the European Commission's guidelines on growing GM crops will be published in 2008, when the need for an EU-wide law will be assessed. Currently, there is only a variety of national measures across the EU.

Mauro Albrizio from EEB said:
"Organic agriculture is a vibrant sector, creating jobs and protecting the environment. The 0.9 percent threshold should not relax the necessity for stringent anti-contamination measures. If the EU is committed to preserving and supporting the organic farming sector, then strict co-existence measures are a necessity, protecting conventional and organic farming from genetic contamination, with stiff penalties for GMO farmers and biotech companies if contamination does occur."




[1] The new law allows 0.9 percent GMO contamination in organic foods as long as it is "adventitious" and "technically unavoidable". However there is evidence that the European Commission and other risk managers - under pressure to adopt a lax attitude to contamination - are in fact interpreting the 0.9 percent threshold to mean "acceptable" contamination. The organic sector currently works to a lower threshold and EU laws should support and enable organic farmers and retailers to maintain existing standards

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