GM crops in Greece? No thanks, say locals

Voices are increasingly being raised against the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Greece as local authorities, organizations and ordinary citizens ask for their areas, and all of Greece, to be safeguarded from the onslaught of biotechnology. Leading the way was the Ionian island of Zakynthos, an important producer of high-quality crops, whose local council some months ago unanimously called on the government to declare the entire country a «GM-free zone» and to take similar initiatives in cooperation with (and aimed at) neighboring countries. A little later, at the beginning of November, a meeting of representatives of EU regions opposed to GM crops was held. They demanded the creation of zones that are free of genetically modified products. Representatives came from Wales, Upper Austria, Aquitaine and Limousin in France, the Basque country, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, Tuscany in Italy and Rhodope in Greece. «We are against the cultivation of genetically modified crops in our regions. We are categorically opposed to it. It is something that bears no relation to either the history of or prospects for our area,» Rhodope Prefect Aristidis Yiannakidis told Kathimerini, leaving no margin for objections. What were his reasons? «For a start, there are all the general reasons: environmental contamination and the threats to public health. But there onward, there are all the local reasons. We, here in Rhodope, have an amazing ecosystem. Why should we disturb its balance?» Yiannakidis inquired. «Half the prefecture, the area that stretches toward the sea, is protected by the Ramsar Convention, while the northern and mountainous region is literally virgin. We aspire to develop low-impact and environmentally friendly tourist activities, while upgrading agricultural production at the same time. GM crops will only place obstacles to all this,» he said. One of their basic aims, he said, was to develop organic farming and local varieties. «We have already moved ahead in the cultivation of herbs, while we will immediately proceed with the establishment of controlled appellations of origin for local products and the certification of organic crops.» Yiannakidis was asked about the prefecture’s stance if a company decided to cultivate GM crops in the area. «The decision will be made by constituted bodies, but there is no such eventuality. If local society is against it, nothing can happen.» Network But the most coordinated efforts in Greece – up to now at least – to declare an area GM-free have taken place in Thessaly. A total of 55 environmental and agricultural organizations, consumer bodies, societies and associations of citizens and professionals in the area have set up the Panthessalian Network against GM crops, with the aim of declaring Thessaly a GM-free zone. They have stated their determination to protect consumers’ health, the quality of local products and biodiversity, in facing the danger of contamination by genetically modified organisms. At the same time, they call on representative bodies in the rest of Greece to participate in the «spread of a truly Panhellenic network against GM crops.» At the Network’s last meeting, on November 30 in Larissa, the decision was made to set up a coordinating committee along with an action program, with representations on the prefectural and municipal councils of Thessaly. Moreover, an information campaign aimed at citizens and farmers (farmers’ unions have not yet taken a position) was also decided upon: it will include day conferences, leaflets warning of the dangers of GM crops, and the creation of a website, as well as contacts with similar initiatives abroad. As Meni Hadzipanayiotou, from the Thessalian magazine Nea Selini (on the Internet) told Kathimerini, the priority is to inform citizens who are not yet aware of the risk posed by the introduction of genetically modified crops into Greek agriculture. «They haven’t understood it’s something irreversible. A lot of them say, ‘We got over the danger of Chernobyl, the danger of dioxins, mad cow disease; we’ll get over this too.’ But it’s not like that. That’s why we need information.» At a recent meeting with representatives of the Synaspismos Left Coalition party, the prefect of Larissa said he was willing to declare Thessaly a GM-free zone, provided there was societal backing. But before the Network was set up, the prefecture of Trikala, by decision of the prefectural council, was declared a GM-free zone, while the prefecture of Thessaloniki was due to discuss the issue this month. The island of Corfu is taking similar actions to those in Thessaly. Until the Panthessalian Network’s website is ready, information can be had by logging on to Kathimerini on the campaign trail Kathimerini’s Oiko magazine has started a campaign to declare the country a GM-free zone. From today until December 31, readers will have a chance to answer the question: «Do you agree to Greece being declared a GM-free zone?» Anyone who wants a say in their future can send a letter to the address: 2 Falireos & Ethnarchou Makariou, Neo Faliron 185 47, or an e-mail to [email protected], or a fax to 210.480.8055. People can also click on and choose the relevant link.