Freedom of Choice - Conference on GMOs in Vienna
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EU leaders stressed the need for more information and experience before further legislation can be passed on genetically-modified organisms, at the end of a two-day conference on GMOs in Vienna. "We should have clear, legal, common regulations (on GMOs) in Europe," Austrian Agriculture Minister Josef Proell said at the closing press conference, but added, "It is too early to sketch the legal framework for common legislation." The conference, entitled "Freedom of Choice," brought together politicians, scientists, as well as farmers and food producers, to discuss the issue of co-existence, referring to the problems involved in growing both GM and non-GM crops in Europe.
"We are still at an early stage of development of co-existence rules, we have only limited experience with cultivation of GM crops in Europe," said Dirk Ahner, the deputy director-general for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission, explaining why an exchange of information was needed.
Proell added that the conference was only the first step and the exchange of information would continue. Another conference on GMO policy is to be held in Vienna on April 18-19.
During the conference two influential European Union commissioners stood on opposite sides of the fence as they discussed the vexed issue of use of genetically modified (GMO) foods in Europe.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, known as one of the more GMO-wary members of the 25-strong executive arm, hinted there was no particular need or hurry to promote GMO crops. “We should not ignore the use of upgraded conventional varieties as an alternative to GM crops, particularly where similar characteristics can be introduced without genetic modification," he said.
His fellow Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, responsible for agriculture, took a different view - saying, effectively, GMOs were here to stay and Europeans should get used to them. “It is already completely legal to grow certain GM crops within the European Union," she told the conference. She also pointed out that co-existency is not about the safety of people, animals and environment. "Put simply, it's about choice."
But Simon Barber, a director at EuropaBio who issued a witherin attack on EC commissioner Dimas believes that this point is being missed. He will however have heard the testimony of Enric Navarro, an organic maize corn grower from Girona in Spain whose farm has been dedicated to organic maize cultivation for the last four years. He claims that this year his crop was contaminated by GM maize. In his attack Barber also states:"Co-existence is about existing approved products. The Commissioner appears to be confused about the facts.”
The Austrian Presidency Conference on Co-existence between GM and Non GM crops forms part of the Commission's consultations with interested parties on the development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence. The Commission is itself divided on biotech policy. In the past, five commissioners have dealt with GMOs: representing agriculture, trade, research, environment and food safety.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have also warned at the end of the conference that Europe's food and farming will be widely contaminated if genetically modified crops are grown in Europe. Helen Holder, GM Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "The freedom of choice of all of Europe's citizens and farmers will be taken away if genetically modified crops are allowed to be grown on a large scale. This conference failed to address the issues of contamination and how to prevent it. This is a missed opportunity. The European public demands food free of genetic contamination and the European Commission must act to protect them."
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