Europe’s Uprising Against GMOs and Patents on Life
The unstoppable groundswell of opposition to GMOs in Europe, by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The recent call for a moratorium on GMOs in Europe  (see Europe Holds the Key to a GM-Free World, 5th Conference of GM-Free Regions, Food & Democracy, SiS 43) reflects an unstoppable groundswell of opposition to GMOs from both European citizens and governments.
An online poll  on the question: “Should GMOs be banned in Europe?” conducted in April 2009 returned a 79 percent yes, 18 percent no and 3 percent don’t know. Days earlier, Germany outlawed the cultivation of Monsanto’s GM maize MON810, a surprising move that delighted campaigners. Germany became the sixth EU country to introduce a provisional ban on the GM maize, after France, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg and Greece . A source close to the EC said the German ban might bring a revision of the European legislation on GM crops. Germany also voted with the majority in March when the European Commission (EC) attempted to force Austria and Hungary to reverse their bans, and its ruling was overturned by a big majority .
Ban by Germany the tipping point
Germany’s move was broadly welcomed by its news media . German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON 810, posed “a danger to the environment,” a position which she said the Environment Ministry also supported. Aigner is taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual countries to impose such bans. The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau wrote: “Genetically modified corn is a risk to our environment, is totally superfluous in farming, represents industrial agriculture, causes pointless costs to food production in Germany and can even ruin beekeepers.” The left-wing Berliner Zeitung wroes: “The new studies don’t show any new risks – they simply prove that the old warning about the risks was justified. It’s a scandal that the subsequent ban was even necessary because the farming of genetically modified plants had been permitted without a thorough examination of all the possible dangers.”
Germany, the most populous country in the European Union (EU) ranking fourth in land area, is also its most influential and economically powerful member nation. Monsanto applied for an emergency ruling to overturn the ban to allow for its 2009 planting , saying its ban is arbitrary and goes against EU regulations.
But the court in Braunschweig in north Germany rejected Monsanto’s application . Significantly, a statement from the court said Germany’s law on GMOs does not require that a ban on a new plant variety is justified by proven scientific research which showed without doubt the crop to be dangerous; it was sufficient when research showed there were indications that the crop could be dangerous.
Opposition strengthened by the eastern bloc
As countries from the former eastern bloc joined the European Union (EU), the US had expected them to help counter the opposition to GMOs, but far from it. The newer members have added strength to the GM opposition, often in direct defiance of Brussels.
In April the European Commission sent a letter to Bulgaria warning over its failure to implement the European Directive for GMO in its legislation, as reported in the Klasa Daily . This was the sixth official warning to Bulgaria for not following regulations. Experts commented that the current Bulgarian legislation is much more restrictive compared to European regulation. Bulgaria supported Hungary’s decision to keep the ban.
No patents on animals and plants
Meanwhile, more than a thousand farmers demonstrated against patents on animals and plants at the European Patent Office in Munich 15 April 2009 . Over 5000 people and some 50 organisations have filed a joint opposition to a patent on breeding pigs originally registered by the US corporation Monsanto. Protestors want all patents on life to be prohibited by law.
Rudolf Buehler from the Schwaebisch Hall farmers’ Association led a herd of its traditional breeding pigs to the patent office. He said: “Corporations like Monsanto want control over agriculture and food, from piglets to cutlets.”
The demonstration was also supported by the German dairy farmers alliance, the BDM, and the AbL farmers’ cooperative. “There are new patent applications that range from cows to milk and yoghurt,” said Romuald Schaber at the BDM. “The German government must set limits to big companies’ greed for living creatures.”
The demonstrators in Munich have already scored an initial success. The Hesse state government and the Greens in the German Bundestag last month called for a change in European patent laws prohibiting such patents being granted in future.
- Ho MW. Europe holds the key to a GM-free world; 5th Conference of GM-free regions, food and democracy. Science in Society 43 (to appear).
- Euro News online poll on GM food and farming 17 April 2009, http://www.euronews.net/news/you/
- “EU to ‘reflect’ on Germany’s GM maize ban”, EU Business, 15 April 2009, http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1239807722.48
- “The world from Berlin: ‘There was no reason to accept the risks of GM corn’” Spiegel Online 15 April 2009, http://www.congoo.com/news/2009April15/World-Berlin-Reason-Accept-Risks
- “Monsanto sues Germany over GM corn ban”, DW-World.DE, 22 April 2009, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4196705,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf
- “German court rejects Monsanto plea to end GMO maize ban”
Reuters, May 5 2009
- “Brussels makes a sixth warning over environment”
FOCUS News Agency, 11 May 2009
- “Farmers demonstrate in Munich against patents on animals and plants”,
No Patents on Seeds, 15 April 2009 http://www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=3&Itemid=28&lang=en