NEWS

Government breaks its promises on GM products

Greece’s approach to genetically modified (GM) organisms has for the past few months been characterized by political inconsistency, a discrepancy between consumers’ desires and state policy and a dubious passivity on the political front. In 1999, Greece took a revolutionary initiative – under the then-Deputy Environment Minister Theodoros Koliopanos – and proposed that the European Union halt all activities related to the distribution and cultivation of GM organisms, a move that resulted in a de facto moratorium. Today, Greece’s stance is not simply one of scandalous inaction, but it has actually reneged on its promises, broken its own laws and is blatantly ignoring Greek consumers’ abhorrence – according to the Eurobarometer’s annual survey – of GM products. Cotton crops It all began with GM cotton. After Greenpeace revealed last year that many imported cotton seed lots were genetically modified, the Agriculture and Environment ministries were forced to issue a joint ministerial decree – a pioneering move even at European level – on inspecting for the presence of genetically modified seeds. Consumers believed that Greece would take major steps toward removing GM organisms from its farms. A year later, the same problem has arisen once again, although this time there has been the time to prepare and, above all, to draw up draft legislation to prevent imports of GM cotton seed. Last April, Greenpeace gave the Agriculture Ministry the results of its analyses, which showed that two out of three cotton seed samples originating in the USA were genetically modified. The Agriculture Ministry’s own analyses – required by law – were not completed on the lots until November (two months after the harvest) and then not all. No results were released for 200-220 seed batches – which happened to be the same number as those imported from the most high-risk country of all, the USA. This is just one month before the first imports of seed for the next cultivation period. «If this image of chaos gets out,» Nikolas Haralambidis, director of Greenpeace’s Greek bureau told Kathimerini, «then we will have missed the boat.» Greece’s lack of organization has already been exploited to the full. The director of the California Crop Improvement Association, Mr F.D. Sundstorm, who signs the «purity» certificates for the seed batches originating in the USA and which the (Greek) ministry appears to trust blindly, said in June 2001 that certification of non-contamination with GM material is weak but since the Greek authorities asked for it, the US authorities supplied it. The Agriculture Ministry’s relevant services did not even ask for a clarification of this statement. Changing of the guard Meanwhile, the changing of the guard at the Public Works and Environment Ministry has brought about great upheaval. Two months after the government reshuffle, it is still not clear who is in charge of the issue, since both the minister and deputy minister have responsibility for issues concerning the natural environment. To be precise, according to a ministry official, the deputy minister makes proposals and the minister decides. However, the minister does not have an adviser on environmental issues. Nevertheless, a scheduled EU environment ministers’ meeting this year was the first time the Greek minister – and not the deputy minister – was present and allegedly surprised delegations from other countries with her silence on issues such as GM organisms, an issue on which Greece had always stated its view. For the last five years, Greece was supposed to be complying with Directive 9219 on the restricted use of GM microorganisms, but has not done so, resulting in the EU issuing a «considered opinion» in January 2001 as a warning to comply. The interesting thing is that the original directive providing for a system for monitoring the use of GM microorganisms, which Greece adopted in 1995, has never been implemented in this country. European Union Nor have things been going well in other parts of the European Union lately. Despite the fact that the latest Eurobarometer survey showed that European citizens are completely opposed to the importation of GM foods, since last March, the European Commission has been broadcasting its intention of approving new GM products and crops in the European market, and its desire to lift the temporary ban (de facto moratorium) that European environment ministers introduced on Koliopanos’s initiative. The EU has been under open pressure from the USA to relax its opposition to GM products. In mid-December, at a press conference after a meeting in Brussels with European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, US trade representative Robert Zelig warned the EU that it would be referred to the World Trade Organization if it did not lift the moratorium and abandon its new legislation on marking GM products and animal fodder. The worst of this was that Lamy raised no objections, but simply listened.