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 Resistance to GM in Europe

 French protest against GM maize

 

Key Information

Historically, European governments have shown significant caution about GM, in large part due to the strength of the resistance from people concerned about the dangers to their health, their livelihoods and the environment. In many European countries, GM crop trials have been destroyed by their worried neighbours, and such GM foods as are approved for import are labelled and widely rejected. However, the EU Commission is a powerful pro-GM force, and a new law could mean that we see a return of GM crops in Europe.

 

Context

Europe is often held up as a stronghold of resistance to GM, and even blamed for the reluctance to accept it elsewhere. Europe held a moratorium on the approval of new GM varieties for five years until 2004, and since then only one crop has been approved for cultivation. However, there are several powerful political figures who are trying to push GM through: a proposed new law would mean the Europe-wide approval procedure will be massively speeded up in return for individual countries being allowed to hold national bans on GM.1 This might sound like a fair deal, but delay has been the one thing that has prevented new GM approvals in Europe, and if that card is taken away we will see many more GM crops in the fields.

Until recently only one GM crop was approved for growing: Monsanto maize, MON810. This has been grown since 1997, mostly used for animal feed, but also for starch which is used in processed food2. France, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Luxembourg and as of April 2009, Germany3 all hold bans on the MON810 maize. The only other GM variety to be approved for cultivation is BASF's controversial Amflora potato.4

Below are a few examples of the resistance to GM that has been taking place in Europe in the last few years.

 

France

2009

  • In March the 60 people from the group Faucheurs Volontaires D'OGM (voluntary reapers of GM), occupied the French Food Safety Agency, hoping to expose how it wasn't independent but was "in the hands of the lobbies and the seed companies".5

2008

  • In August in the Viennes region two fields of Monsanto (MON810) maize, totalling 5000m², were destroyed in broad daylight, while police watched but did not intervene. MON810 had been illegal in France since February 2008, but, the government claimed, these fields were authorised as trial sites.6 In June more Monsanto maize crops were destroyed in Haute-Garonne and le Gers.7

2007

  • French GM scythersOver the year, at least 18 fields of GM maize were destroyed, some of them in several attempts. The group Faucheurs Volontaires D'OGM claimed some of these actions, but many were done by groups of citizens who didn't get caught and remained anonymous.8

2006

  • In Aude, activists from the Faucheurs volontaires, Confederation Paysanne and Greenpeace carried out an occupation and 'citizens inspection' of a Monsanto seed facility, searching for GM materials.

 

Germany

2010

  • In July 6 people partially decontaminated a field of GM potatoes in an openly announced daylight action.

  • In April farmers, gardeners and agricultural students occupied a field to try to prevent GM sugar beet from being sown.

2008

  • In Dambeck a field trial of BASF's Amflora Potatoes was destroyed, first by a group of activists who squatted the field and were evicted and then the job was completed when another group managed to mix up the GM potatoes with other ones, making the results invalid.

  • In Westheim around 60 people destroyed almost all of a maize crop before getting arrested.

  • In Rheinstetten people managed to get rid of around 5000m² of maize plants, either destroying it completely or cutting it down so the trial couldn't continue.

  • In Werne a small filed of herbicide resistant maize was destroyed by a small number of activists who did not get caught.

     

Ireland

2006

  • In May 2006, BASF was given permission to run the same trial of blight-resistant potatoes that has been happening in Cambridge, but it pulled out a couple of weeks later, complaining that the conditions that were imposed on the trial were too harsh. Another factor may have been a major campaign involving over a hundred farm and food industry groups and legal challenges on planning grounds.9 Nationally a demonstration was held as the Environmental Protection Agency met to decide on whether to agree the trial, and there was petition signed by more than 5000 people, while Meath County Council, where the trial was to take place, responded to the demands of local farmers10 and unanimously passed two motions to declare the region a GM free zone, in which either commercial growing or experimentation would be prohibited.11

 

Netherlands

2010

  • Blockade of Monsanto offices and research facilities, closing off both gates with 50 people. No arrests were made, but the building was closed all day with workers sent home.

 

Poland

  • Polish farmers burn GM seedIn March 2009, three people, including Edyta Jaroszewska, the president of the Polish Association of Organic Farmers, started a hunger strike, denouncing the government for failing to deal with illegal growing of the banned MON810 maize, and demanding a ban on GM in animal feed and more support for organic agriculture.12

  • The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside is working to boost awareness of GM in Poland through symbolic protests such as lighting beacons on hills, attaching traditional seeds to balloons, and street theatre.13

     

Portugal

2007

  • The first GM field in the Algarve, supposedly a GM free zone, was targetted by 65 'mowers' who managed to cut down a hectare of GM corn in 20 minutes. This was the biggest direct action to take place in Portugal since the 70s, it was publicly announced by the Movimento Verde Eufémia and took place during daylight. It was also highly successful in attracting media attention, and led on to a major demonstration in Porto a couple of months later.14

 

Romania

Romania is one of the biggest growers of GM crops in Europe, but since it joined the EU, the GM soya and plum trees it had been cultivating have been officially banned.15 A number of regions have declared themselves GMO free zones, and are demanding a right to ban GM crops.16

2007

  • Greenpeace activists blockaded an island where Gm crops were being grown illegally, and, in a symbolic protest, 'decontaminated' all the vehicles leaving and arriving.

 

Russia

2006

  • Anti GMO banner in RussiaRally in Moscow against GMOs in children's food. About 10,000 activists signed the appeal to Healthcare Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Russian President Vladimir Putin to introduce state moratorium on GMOs in children foodstuffs. On Children's Day a large group of children and adults rallied near the Russian Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development in Moscow, demanding to ban usage of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for children foodstuffs' production. The protesters erected gigantic image of genetically modified carrot before the ministry's building, as a symbol of potentially dangerous substances, which children's food may contain. By the action's end the carrot was destroyed thanks to joint efforts.17

 

Spain

2010

  • Dozens of people came together to destroy 2 open air trials of GM maize, developed by Syngenta18

2009

  • A major demonstration was held in Zaragoza calling for a ban on GM crops

2006

  • In Catalonia 50 people cut down and burnt a maize crop in support of organic farmer near the field.19

 

Switzerland

2010

  • A GM wheat field was destroyed twice in one year in Pully.20

2008

  • In Zurich around 35 people destroyed a field trial of GM wheat by scything and trampling it down.21

 

Read about

Footnotes

1: 'EC plans to relax rules on GM crops in Europe,' http://www.aseed.net/index.php?option=com_con tent&task=view&id=7 67&Itemid=1, last viewed 17.07.10

2: GMO compass website, http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/gro cery_shopping/crops/18.genetically_mod ified_maize_eu.html, last viewed 06.05.10

3: EU to 'reflect' on Germany's GM maize ban, 15.04.09, http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1239807722.48/, last viewed 10.05.10

4: ISIS Press Release: 'Stop the crop! Dossier on the pending approval of genetically engineered maize varieties "bt11" and "1507"', 09.11.07, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GM-Free_Europe_Beginning.php, last viewed 08.05.10

5: Noisette, Christophe 'France - Les Faucheurs fauchent l'Afssa', March 2009, http://www.infogm.org/spip.php?article3908, last viewed 10.05.10

6: Héluin,Gilles, 'Fauchage d'OGM, ca continue!', 16.08.08, http://www.centpourcentnaturel.fr/p ost/2008/08/16/Fauchage-d-OGM-ca-co ntinue, last viewed 05.05.10

7: 'Tous les essais OGM en France de Monsanto detruits', 20.08.08, http://www.lesmotsontunsens.com/fau chage-volontaire-tous-les-essais-ogm-en-france-de-monsanto-detruits, last viewed 05.05.10

8: Les fauchages de l'été 2007, 2.10.07, http://www.infogm.org/spip.php?article3222, last viewed 05.05.10

9: BASF abandons plans for Irish GMO potato experiment, May 2006, http://www.gmfreeireland.org/potato/index.php, last viewed 23.05.10

10: 'GM potatoes not wanted in County Meath,' 25.04.06, available to download at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/potato/index.php, last viewed 23.05.09 (click on 'local opposition' in the right hand menu)

11: BASF abandons plans for Irish GMO potato experiment, May 2006, http://www.gmfreeireland.org/potato/index.php, last viewed 23.05.10

12: Noisette, Christophe, 'Pologne - Grève de la faim contre les OGM,' March 2009, http://www.infogm.org/spip.php?article3916, last viewed 10.05.10

13: International GMOpposition Month, http://www.gmo.icppc.pl/eng_index.php?id=dday, last viewed 10.05.10

14: 'Portugese activists need support after succesful action against field with gm-mais', 28.09.07, http://www.aseed.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=427&Itemid=174, last viewed 10.05.10

15: Zimonjic, Vesna Peric, 'GM Soy to Be Banned', http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35903, last viewed 10.05.10

16: More GMO Free Regions in Romania, 27.03.07, http://www.aseed.net/index.php?opti on=com_content&task=vi ew&id=366&Itemid=174, last viewed 10.05.10

17: 'Rally in Moscow against GMOs in children's food', 03.06.06, http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=2779, last viewed 20.04.10

18: See https://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/24017, last viewed 16.07.10

19: Contamination case in organic agriculture - Catalonia (Spain), http://www.earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/20665, last viewed 10.05.10

20: 'SUISSE - L'essai OGM à Pully neutralisé par les opposants', www.infogm.org/spip.php?article4486, last viewed 14.07.10

21: 'Field trial with genetically modified wheat destroyed (Zurich, Switzerland)', http://www.earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/20968, last viewed 10.5.10