Swelling chorus of voices raised against GMOs as campaign spreads and gets more organized

A campaign to ban the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Greece is snowballing into a determined opposition to the introduction of «Frankenstein foods» – as they are dubbed here – into the country. The campaign is also growing more organized, even holding its first conference in which no fewer than 142 groups and organizations, representing a cross section of the population (and expressing the views of a majority of people in Greece), participated. On Sunday, February 1, the hall that hosted the Panhellenic meeting of anti-GM organizations, on the last day of Agrotica, the farm equipment fair in Thessaloniki, proved too small to hold the hundreds of representatives from all over Greece. Time, too, was in short supply. An endless procession of speakers was supplemented by participants from the floor, who unflaggingly chipped in and expounded. The meeting lasted for hours. The resolution Despite the general exhaustion – and the sense that perhaps better organization, without suppressing contributions from below, was called for – the result was significant. Some 142 organizations from all over Greece (especially from Thessaly, which has spearheaded the campaign) signed the resolution calling for Greece, and all its prefectures and regions, to be declared a GM-free zone. At the same time, the meeting declared its support for quality local products. The resolution categorically rejected the «profiteering of a group of multinational GM companies, who through patents are turning the global inheritance of genetic material into their own property.» The profit motive, both globally and locally, should not be raised above everything else, «in contravention of the rights of peoples and local communities to security and survival, and the inalienable right of citizens all over the world to be able to choose not to produce and not to consume GM products. Let us not become the guinea pigs of biotechnological multinational companies.» The meeting declared the right «of representative citizens’ bodies, the scientific community and the public authorities to protect public health, agriculture and the environment, on the basis of the principles of prevention, due precaution and mutual aid and assistance.» During the conference, the president of the Panhellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives (PASEGES) and representatives of the General Confederation of Greek Agrarian Associations (GESASE), pledged they would refuse to countenance the cultivation of genetically modified crops. The participants represented a significant cross section of society. Ecological organizations, organic farmers, professional and agricultural unions, and entire municipalities were joined by the Timiou Prodromou Monastery on Mount Kissavos. The gathering called on all prefectural and municipal councils to «take a position, as local authority bodies,» to declare a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops, and to express their disapproval of any trafficking in GM products in their areas «on the basis of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety [which entered into force on September 11, 2003] and the protection of biodiversity.» Local authorities, the resolution continued, should notify the Greek and European parliaments of their decision by April 2004 and demand a continuation of the moratorium on GM imports. The resolution demanded that legislation be drawn up that would allow the «right of countries and local communities to ban GM products at every level of production and consumption, that the necessary powers and means be granted so that stricter measures can be taken in the event of dangers posed to public health, the environment, quality local products, culture, and the traditions and morality of peoples and local communities.» Already, 11 prefectural councils in the country have adopted similar resolutions, while at least another 10 are preparing to forbid genetically modified products. The meeting also called on the agricultural, cooperative and trade union movements to mobilize. In view of the elections, it also called on all parliamentary candidates to state their support for the struggle against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in an attempt to turn genetically modified crops into an electoral issue. But the participants did not rest content with words alone. They declared April to be a month of anti-GM action and the defense of local quality products. During the first week in April, the resolution will be forwarded to the new ministers of agriculture, the environment, and development and the speakers and deputy speakers of Parliament. On April 17, there will be another meeting at the Athens National Technical University, with a preliminary meeting to be held in Larissa on March 28. The participants also decided to set up scientific, legal and coordinating groups. The last of these will be responsible for the Internet website. By all indications, the anti-GM front has come to stay. It will be a force to be reckoned with, both by European policymakers who are opening the doors to genetically modified products and by any government that attempts to grant permits for the cultivation of genetically modified crops.