Living things that grow, migrate and multiply

Responsibility for the implementation of biotechnology in farming rests with environment ministries, since the relevant European legislation is titled «the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms in the environment.» Between 1990 and 1999 many European countries, including Greece, were unable to formulate national positions and, by extension, a unified EU policy on this major issue for European and world farming. In June 1999, when I was environment minister, I submitted a proposal to the EU’s council for a ban on all activity concerning the distribution and cultivation of GM organisms. The Greek proposal, which was accepted and which led to the moratorium, was the result of cooperation between all relevant ministries (Agriculture, Health, Development, Economy), and with scientific and non-governmental organizations. The most important arguments in the Greek proposal and then in the Council of Minsters’ decision were: – European and world citizens’ concern about the possible risks to health and the natural environment. – Omissions and weaknesses in European legislation (Directive 90/220) mainly regarding risk evaluation, traceability, marking, duration of licenses, etc. – The need to adhere to the principle of prevention on issues directly related to health and environmental protection. – Farmers’ future dependency on just a few multinational companies. To date, these concerns that led to the moratorium have not been removed, although there have been some additions to the legislation. The council’s decision was not a denial of progress and science, but a courageous initiative to put politics before the market and profit. It was Europe’s first rejection of genetic commerce, and at Greece’s initiative. So we have an obligation to defend it, thereby defending the natural environment and human health. Biotechnology has already made a great contribution to many sectors and can also do so in agriculture, but not in haste, under pressure and under the terms of the multinational companies. As for the argument for combating famine, it is a joke to say the least. A few decades ago, there was a similar dilemma with agricultural chemicals. Whoever wanted rules and control was regarded as a Luddite. Now farm products are being thrown out and traces of toxic substances are being found in mothers’ milk. And let us not forget that GM organisms are neither fertilizers nor pesticides, but living things that grow, migrate and multiply and cannot be recalled. (1) Theodoros Koliopanos is a PASOK parliamentary deputy.