Sinister shadow looms over our dinner tables as conventional and organic farms are threatened

Europe appears likely to agree to accept genetically modified (GM) food products, with certain reservations, following pressure from the US. Although the five-year moratorium imposed by certain European Union member states that has frozen approval of the circulation and cultivation of these products is not yet over, it appears that the final rampart is soon to fall. The US has invested enormous capital in creating new varieties of GM products, and its firms involved are losing massive profits every year due to the ban in Europe. US President George W. Bush has accused the EU of causing famine in African countries because of its policy on GM farming. European Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy has said that Europeans seek more precautions than Americans, adding: «It is unacceptable to claim that the EU is letting the Third World starve to death because we don’t unload all our surplus GM organisms on them. To use these kinds of arguments is going too far.» However, statements on both sides, along with the fact that recent articles on farming in the foreign press appear to be more concerned with lifting the moratorium than developments in the review of the Common Agricultural Policy, show that the pressure is on. The Europan Union has drafted legislation determining conditions for allowing the sale and cultivation of GM organisms. Although Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler has said that «GM products sold in Europe will be safe,» scientists can give no guarantees. The legislation itself contains several gray areas. For example, only food that contains over 0.9 percent of GM organisms will be labeled as such. In July the European Parliament will have to rule on legislation regarding the «traceability» of GM organisms from the field to consumers’ plates and on labeling food and animal fodder. Significantly, the question of GM farms existing alongside conventional or organic farmers has not yet been clarified, such as they way in which farmers who have chosen to farm organically will be able to ensure that their crops have not been contaminated by GM farms. Fischler proposes that in cases where crops are contaminated by GM organisms from a neighboring field, the cost should fall on the farmer who does not farm GM products. A Commission report that has been kept secret for some time says that contamination is quite likely. A statement by Fischler himself does not bode well for those who choose not to grow GM crops, in line with what most EU consumers want. He said, in fact, that one cannot talk about contamination of conventional or organic crops since GM organisms are not toxic, or even pesticides, but ordinary seeds that have simply been produced using other methods. Yet as long as contamination is considered a strong possibility, and organic farms could be found to contain GM organisms, one wonders just how much choice consumers will have.