Greek experts join forces to make demand for national center on genetically modified products

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been the subject of legislation in international organizations and the European Union since their use or release into the environment was linked to potential or proven risks to human health and the environment. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000), Directive 2001/18 and Regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003 comprise the existing basic legislative framework, which is chiefly oriented toward protection. Greece has ratified the Cartagena Protocol with Law 3233/18-2-2004, while Directive 2001/18, which comprises the main body of the provisions, has not yet been incorporated into national legislation, although the deadline for doing so expired on October 17, 2002. The following observations are not related to the substance of these provisions, but refer exclusively to the extent to which Greece has abided by them. *Proposal for «national center» The implementation of the Cartagena Protocol depends directly on domestic provisions; unfortunately, there has been complete inaction. To be specific, the protocol’s provisions that are of decisive importance regarding the evaluation and management of the dangers (Articles 15 and 16), are based on the establishment of national control mechanisms. Greece has done absolutely nothing about this. So what is needed is a «national center,» comprising a scientific and an administrative department. The former should be staffed on the basis of transparency and scientific qualifications. Staff should represent all views, since the GMO issue is characterized by uncertainty and, therefore, differing opinions. The administrative department should be unified in order to ensure efficacy. Another important provision in the protocol refers to public participation in the decision-making process with regard to importing GMOs (Article 23). The implementation of this article is entirely up to the country in question. Again, nothing has been done. This provision is important in that the scientific viewpoint on GMOs is not enough. The involvement of society is important in determining how acceptable the risks of GMOs are. *Real objective responsibility for the consequences of «coexistence.» In view of the incorporation into national law of Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment, we are about to make several proposals to ensure the feasibility and effectiveness of these measures. First of all, we should mention that the member states play a considerable role in the decision-making process regarding the introduction of a GM organism on EU soil, since the application for importation is submitted to a member state which decides whether it will accept it. That is precisely why we need the right technical and administrative infrastructure. The framework should be the «national center.» A crucial issue is the «coexistence» of genetically modified crops with those that are conventionally or organically grown. The directive has left this open and it is up to the member states to make the necessary arrangements, mainly with regard to criminal, administrative and, above all, civil responsibility. Already several states have dealt with this issue (such as Germany, Denmark, Italy and Austria) and most of the remainder are in the process of doing so. Unfortunately, in Greece no action has been taken. We suggest a system of truly objective responsibility for any damage to conventionally or organically grown crops, without any provision for exceptions. Those responsible will be determined on the basis of «joint and complete responsibility,» that is, they should include both GM seed firms and producers of GM crops. In addition, all those who want to cultivate GM crops should have a license and be listed in a register that is accessible to all. *State responsibility for food and feed. The implementation of regulations 1829/03 and 1803/03 depends exclusively on the member state governments, given that the EU does not have its own mechanism for administering EU acts. Here also, the Greek government has been completely inactive. In particular, Regulation 1829/03 on GM food and feed determines that the risk evaluation for GMOs to be used as seeds or other propagation material belongs exclusively to the state where the application is made. So the appropriate technical and administrative infrastructure is needed. Again, the framework should be the «national center.» Regulation 1830/03 on the traceability of GMOs provides for the obligation to satisfy demands regarding the traceability and recording of GMOs or the food and feed produced from them. This can be achieved only by mobilizing the national government, which in this case is inactive. So within the Greek market there are GMOs circulating for which there is absolutely no record, despite the instructions of the European Union. Again, what is needed is the appropriate technical and administrative infrastructure, which should be the «national center.» (1) T. Kourakis, associate professor at Thessaloniki University Medical School; D. Kouretas, associate professor at the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department, Thessaly University; L. Louloudis, associate professor at Athens Agricultural University; A. Manitakis, law professor at Thessaloniki University, and G. Balias, lawyer. A matter of political choices First of all, it should be emphasized that Greece is one of the few countries in the European Union where as yet there has been absolutely no debate on GMOs, whether by the government (previous or current) or the state sector in general. Attempts to highlight the issue have been made by citizens’ groups, a sector of the media, some scientific organizations and individual scientists. On the contrary, the political forces (government and opposition), the farming organizations (such as the confederations PASEGES and GESASE which restrict themselves to issuing resolutions) and the academic community have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate. The GMO issue brings together moral values, social preferences, rival economic interests and, above all, political choices. It is a sociopolitical area which forces the political parties to depart from general principles of democracy, participation and the defense of general interests and to take a specific stand. It also forces scientists to take a position and highlight the problem of the relationship between scientific research and the needs of society, and eventually to raise the issue of the democratization of science to the point where it becomes a social institution. Paradoxically, while the entire political spectrum is opposed to GMOs, they do not act on their convictions. The government will not mobilize the administrative sector nor enact the necessary procedures; the opposition makes no specific recommendations, apart from scattered proposals by smaller parties.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.