According to popular belief, the release of genetically modified organisms (GMO) into the environment constitutes a significant threat against the environment, public health and nutritional safety. The term GMO denotes the organisms (animal or vegetable – but not human) whose genetic material has undergone scientific intervention, with the (so-called) purpose of improving their characteristics regarding resistance to decay, quality, nutritional content, etc.
GMO (so-called “modified foods”) have been the cause for anything from conspiracy theories to ground for intense political contradiction – mostly (but not only) from the side of environmentalist/green parties in the EU. The purpose of this publication is to briefly examine the existing legal context for GMO, as well as our rights regarding them.
In April 2015, the European Parliament voted Legislation 2015/412, which is a modification of certain points of Legislation 2001/18 (a basic law for GMO). Let’s look at their most interesting points (which have, to a great extent, been incorporated into National Law):
- Among other things, in its thinking, the EU has taken under consideration the need “…to secure the safe development of bio-mechanical products using GMO“.
- The deliberate liberation of GMO in the research stage is, most times, a necessary step in the development of new products that derive from or contain GMO. Likewise, no GMO should be considered as a product to be disposed in the market without first being submitted to satisfactory trials in practice (during research and development stages) in ecosystems on which its use might have an effect.
- It is necessary for a Community approval process to be decreed for the disposal of GMO as products or within products in the market. In specific, before moving to a new deliberate release of a GMO to the environment or disposing a GMO (as product or within products) to the market, any person (be it natural or legal) should first make the relevant notification to the national authorities in charge (for Greece, that would be the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Foods / Hellenic Food Authority – EFET). The notification should be of technical form, containing information as to the estimate of danger to the environment, security measures for cases of emergency, instructions for use, packaging and labeling. The rejection of a notification by the appropriate authorities should not influence the submission of notification for the GMO itself to another authority (within the EU).
- When a product containing a GMO is disposed to the market, having been approved according to this legislation, a member-state cannot forbid, restrict or obstruct its disposal to the market.
- Member-states ask for the public’s opinion regarding the deliberate liberation of GMO. Should an authority have any objections about a GMO, the European Commission will publish its decision after referring the matter to a scientific committee.
- It is possible for a minimum limit to be decreed, under which the notification of a GMO on a product is not obligatory (in Greece, this is the 0.9% of the product’s mass).
- The indirect effects of deliberate liberation of GMO to the environment are observed after a certain amount of time (delayed) while it is highly possible that, as more resistant, they may invade natural habitats!
- Member-states are provided with the right to forbid the cultivation of GMO on their soil (but never their import and disposal in the market).
- All research regarding danger estimates about the deliberate liberation of GMO should be at the public’s disposal.
- Member-states on whose soil GMO are cultivated are taking all necessary precautions in frontier areas of their territory for the avoidance of possible cross-border infection.
From all the above, we can deduct the following contradicting conclusion:
While the EU accepts and incorporates into its formal Legislation scientific findings (and environmentalists’ arguments), namely that GMO are potentially dangerous to the environment and public health, it emphatically continues to deny its member-states the right to forbid GMO’s trade – in the line of thought that unhinged financial growth should be secured!
Apart from all the above mentioned information, it is worth noting that in the US and Canada (in contrast to the rest of the world) there is no obligation regarding the labeling of GMO in products; a fact that becomes rather significant in light of the talk between the EU and the US about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP). Thankfully, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated that the issue of food safety will be the first to be discussed on the agenda.
Let us also add that the manufacturer of products containing GMO is not obliged to place a relevant label on the product if GMO “contamination” has happened in a prior stage of production. For example, if a cow is fed with modified fodder, its milk is not subject to obligatory labeling as GMO.
The Greek government has committed to bringing a more detailed and strict law about GMO to Parliament. Yet, regardless of that commitment, how can we basically protect ourselves from GMO – if so we desire?
- Collectives and public institutions, which either supply and/or dispose foods: by exercising to its full extent the right to ask their suppliers to provide the entire technical profile and the EU approval regarding the disposal of GMO, as well as the right to ask food suppliers to state the origin of the food.
- Civilians individually: by carefully observing the packaging and labeling of the products we buy, keeping in mind companies’ obligation to report the existence of GMO when its percentage in the final product’s mass exceeds 0.9%. Moreover, by constantly monitoring the link http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm regarding each approved for circulation GMO in the EU – which, at present, are restricted to varieties of cotton, corn, yeast, sugar beet and rapeseed (fodder and biofuel).
However, regardless of all of the above, our vigilance as citizens regarding GMO will also be judged by our political choices. Environmentalism as politics and stance of life cannot be the affair of a small élite. In short, it is not the most responsible of things for the protection of biodiversity and public health to be the luxury of those who have solved their basic needs and problems; instead, it constitutes, like any environmental issue, a fundamental responsibility towards future generations.