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GMOs: The socio – economic impacts of contamination

Bruxelles, mercoledì 24 marzo 2010

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Public resistance - The long struggle against GMOS in Europe

In spite of the repeated rejections of European farmers
and consumers who have consistently iterated their
opposition to the introduction of GMOs in European fields
and markets, the EU is still pushing them against European
Food Soveriegnty, and GMO crops and foods are in our
fields and shops. The struggle against GMOs continues.

It is clear that the push for GM technology in Europe is
caused by the commitments made by the EU Commission
to biotechnology industries and their political
representatives in order to introduce GM crops in Europe.

GM seeds represent the last step in reducing the role of
farmers from independent food producers to simple labourers,
ignoring the
value of
traditional
knowledge, the role of farmers in biodiversity and
environmental protection and locking farmers into a
system based on seed, fertiliser, agrochemical and energy
inputs entirely dependent on and controlled by
transnational corporations and a logic of profit.

The farmers of the European Coordination Via Campesina
reject GM agriculture on all grounds, and most urgently
for the threat it poses to the very model of agricultural
and food production which is now urgently needed in
order to protect the environment, biodiversity, European
food sovereignty and rural livelihoods.

A crisis in EU authorisation procedures?

In order to facilitate the introduction of GMOs in Europe,
the European Commission has opted for a onedimensional
approach based entirely on the scientific
evaluations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),
and has failed to consult other bodies (national
authorities, The European Group on Ethics and New
Technologies...).

EFSA itself has failed to fulfil it’s remit in significant areas
of importance to EU citizens and member state’s
decisions1 [1] , and has had clear questions raised over it’s
impartiality – the example
of Suzy Renckens, who
left EFSA’s GMO panel for
a job working directly with
the Swiss Biotech firm
Syngenta is but one of
many clear examples of
this. [2]

It is unacceptable that the EU has been allowed to “push”
through controversial products such as GMOs taking
advantage of given loopholes in an otherwise clear
regulatory framework in place to ensure due process. As
such this threatens democratic process and transparency
and lends credence to the assessment that EU policies are
driven by corporate as opposed to citizen interests –
threatening the faith of citizens in the EU. The recent
authorization of the BASF AmFlora Potato by the
Commission in spite of a simple majority opposition in the
EU council is an example of this.

The eventual submission of the EU Commission to request Socio-Economic
Impact studies of GMOS is an important step, as it means they have finally
complied with EC Regulation 178/2002:
“It is recognised that scientific assessment alone cannot, in some cases
provide all the information on which a risk management decision should be
based, and that other factors relevant to the matter under consideration
should legitimately be taken into account including societal, economic,
traditional, ethical and environmental factors and the feasibility of
controls”
It should be noted that these “societal, economic, traditional, ethical and
environmental factors” have never been properly taken into account by the
EU Commission in the procedure for GM authorization in Europe.

The failure of the European Commission to take these
other factors into account up until now throws into
question it’s competency in managing the risk of the
introduction of GMOs into Europe.
The clear questions raised from the socio-economic
reports from farmer’s and civil society organisations will
require an in depth analysis of how EU institutions have
functioned in Europe, and a deeper investigation into the
corporate takeover of EU decision making.


Socio-economic impacts and their
implications for EU policy making

The socio-economic reports provided by farmer’s
organisations and civil society organisations, most
importantly from Spain (where the majority of currently
authorized GMOs, maize varieties derived from the
MON810 event, are cultivated) provide important insights
to the practical impacts of this new technology on
individuals and communities through eyes unclouded by
the potential for scientific or financial advancement.
The “domino effect” nature of many of these impacts
should also send warning bells ringing in European
institutions. The introduction of GMOs in delicately
balanced rural social and economic systems can have
unforeseen and long lasting consequences. Socioeconomic
impacts give a first impression of the potential
difficulties GMOs can cause in Europe, the long term
effects of which are difficult to quantify. The introduction of GM technology on incomplete scientific analysis
without consideration of other impacts is at best shortsighted
and at worst irresponsible.

The Spanish Case studies - practical
examples, real lives
3 [3]

Direct economic impacts

There is clear evidence of direct negative economic
impacts on farmers affected by GM contamination of their
previously profitable productions, whether organic or
conventional.
Thus, farmers living in regions where GMOs are cultivated
are in danger of considerable economic losses due to the
loss of organic certification through contamination. There
are clear examples of this across considerable distances, in
spite of farmers changing sowing times in an attempt to
avoid contamination, even if this results in reduced yields.
Taking into account the average farm income in Spain is
around €20,000 per annum, the economic losses incurred
in these examples have the potential to drive the farms
into bankruptcy. As said by Félix Ballarín a farmer in the study: “I am discouraged. I am not going to
sow maize this year. I can take on a
certain amount of risk on my capital,
but not this much…”

Another farmer in the study was the victim of contamination
from GM Maize grown in the region, in spite of his
precautions in sowing his crop later in the year. The case
of this farmer, Eduardo Campayo, has a clear further
downstream effect on the finely balanced rural economy
of the region: “[The contamination] generates huge economic
loss - the economic capacity of several people and
small businesses is based on the GM-free character
of my grain. If my maize is contaminated again this
year, I will not grow the crop next year. I am sorry
for my buyers who more or less depend on me”

Economic damage is not restricted to organic farming.
Farmers cultivating conventional maize for the gluten
market have lost up to 18 euros a ton when their crop and
or harvest have been contaminated by GM maize and
have then been sold for animal feedstuffs given that no
agro-food industries want to buy GM maize for gluten.
(See COAG et al document quoted above).

Domino effects of contamination

The two case studies outlined above had clear and
concrete subsequent impacts on the local economy. In
particular the case of Eduardo Campayo, whose maize was
sold primarily to just one customer – The Rincon del Segura
Bakery.
The Rincon del Segura bakery in Albacete was a success
story in the rural economy, providing employment through
the processing of locally produced organic grains into
bread and other products, with sales of more than 1
million Euro in 2007.

At the start of 2007, the business bought a consignment of
maize from
Eduardo Campayo,
maize that had
been sown and
harvested in 2007
(see above).
When the Rincón del Segura bakery bought the maize it
had an up to date certificate of organic status. In March
2007, the Sohiscert certifier’s annual inspection of the
bakery detected contamination by transgenes in that same
consignment of maize which effectively disqualified the
bakery from selling any goods derived from
maize throughout 2007.

Due to these events, the Rincon del Segura bakery:

• stopped sales of all products derived from the
maize (flour and meal)

• informed its clients that, due to the results of
analyses, these products would not be sold by
them until they could guarantee raw materials
free of any traces of GMOs

• Returned all the maize and maize products to
the farmer, leaving the bakery’s usual clients
without supplies and causing considerable
economic damage to the bakery (and the
farmer) and loss of image with clients.

The contamination of the maize provided to the local
enterprise led to subsequent knock-on losses of market
share, continuity of production and commercial viability. It
is important that the secondary effects of the primary
impacts of GMOs (particularly through contamination) are
also considered in Socio-Economic impact assessments.


Impacts and Conclusions

The study undertaken by civil society organisations both
in France and Spain indicated some alarming tendencies
in the socio-economic impacts of GM crops.

Lack of responsibility

• liability for contamination resting with the
contaminated – in all cases where farmer’s crops
were contaminated leading to economic losses for
the farmer, the liability rested not with the
“polluter” but with the “polluted”

• lack of information regarding location of GM fields
– lack of registration of GM crops in local and
regional areas led to confusion over locations of
GM fields. Governments do not have transparent
or effective systems in place to identify where GM
crops are being grown

• contamination of seeds sold by conventional seed
companies (leading to crop contamination) – in
one alarming example from Spain seeds purchased
from a local supplier (and thought to be
conventional) were in fact contaminated by
transgenes.

• lack of possibility of insurance on non-GM crops for
contamination

Loss of beneficial practices

• Loss of local organic production – in some areas of
Spain it is becoming impossible to source locally
grown organic maize for animal feeds or other
uses, reducing the capacity of the rural economy to
develop interdependence and economic
development.

•The loss of native seeds and varieties essential to
maintaining local and regional biodiversity.

• Difficulties for seed growers and producers;
patenting of genetic parts of plants and varieties
accelerates the concentration of companies in the
seed industry, and the increased need for analysis
and segregation of production makes the work of
seed producers economically much more difficult.

• Possible disappearance of non-GM seeds from
markets. This has occurred in many countries
which have allowed GM seeds. In Europe most
forecasts suggest that if no legal changes are
introduced, a high percent of seeds will be GM in
the future.

It seems clear from the socio-economic impact reports
which have been developed over the last number of
years that there are serious concerns over GM cultivation
which go far beyond the scientific analysis up until now
undertaken by EU institutions, which has itself often been
insufficient and flawed.

GMOs are used by large companies to privatise seeds at
the expense of the food sovereignty of peoples and rural
communities throughout the world. Their goal is to
control people’s access to food.
An increasing number of scientific studies prove that
GMOs are harmful to health and the environment and
that, by contaminating other crops, they endanger
biodiversity. Co-existence between an agriculture with
GMOs and GM-free agriculture is impossible. Introducing
socio-economic information completes the picture
regards the negative impacts of GMOs.

To this end the European Coordination Via
Campesina is calling for a permanent ban on GMO
cultivation and import in the European Union and
supports the call for a similar ban worldwide.

Contacts

Josie Riffaud : +33613105291
Andoni García: +34636451569

titre documents joints

Note

[1See Greenpeace document: "EU GMO Environmental Risk Assessment needs reforming", September 2008

[2See "Head of European Food Standards Agency GMO panel moves to Syngenta: Letter to Barroso" Jan 21st 2010 on www.corporateeurope.org

[3The full study is attached to this article in english and spanish.