GM-FREE IRELAND


NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release

IRISH ORGANIC CONFERENCE WARNS OF GMO INVASION

Dublin, Ireland, 18 May 2003 (Irish Organic Network) - A conference on the revitalisation of Irish farming on Tuesday 20 May in Dublin will ask the Government to take immediate action to defend Ireland's environmental and food security from an invasion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which the USA and other countries now want the World Trade Organisation to foist upon European citizens against their will.

On 13 May 2003, the USA, Canada, Argentina and Egypt fired the first salvo in a new trade war by announcing their intention to request WTO consultations on the EU's authorisation system for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Working as guns-for-hire on behalf of the giant biotech and agribusiness companies, this US-led coalition against nature wants the WTO to force the EU to lift its current moratorium on the commercial growing and importation of GM foods which an overwhelming majority of European consumers do not want.

Transnational biotech and agribusiness giants Monsanto, Cargill, Novartis and Nestlé have slapped a $4 billion annual price tag on the losses they will incur if they can't flood Europe with GM products nobody wants or needs. The European Commission stated the US-led move is "legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful."

Irish Organic Conference chair Michael O'Callaghan said:

"If our government allows the release of transgenic plants and animals, they will infect Ireland's ecosystem forever. The consequences will be irreversible.

Given Bertie's violation of the neutrality of our constitution by joining the US-led "coalition against terror", it behoves Irish citizens, scientists, religious leaders, consumers, NGOs, farmers and farming organisations who understand the health and environmental security risk of GMOs to take responsibility and prevent this disaster before it happens.

We must hold our elected leaders accountable to defend our environmental security on this issue in the weeks ahead. Our failure to act now will make us legally powerless to protect ourselves and future generations from a series of unstoppable GM disasters."

He adds that Governments which fail to protect the security of their citizens rapidly lose their legitimacy.

The Irish Organic conference features a line-up of prominent environmental and organic farming experts who will convene in Dublin to discuss the revitalisation of Irish farming. Ireland's world famous green image ‚ and one of the least polluted topsoils in the EU ‚ can provide significant comparative advantage for farmers who choose GM-free organic farming. This conference will explore innovative pathways to leverage these assets to protect our natural capital, strengthen our rural communities, keep out GMOs, advance Ireland's transition to real security and a sustainable economy, and increase our share of the §25bn organic food market. Part of the fourth annual Convergence Festival, the conference will take place from 09.00 to 18.00, Tuesday 20 May 2003, at the Cultivate sustainable living centre, Essex Street West, Temple Bar, Dublin. Website: www.irish-organic.com.

Conference details are available online at www.irish-organic.com

For enquiries, please contact Global Vision Consulting Ltd. at this address.



BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE GMO INVASION

How the WTO process works

If the US-led coalition against nature succeeds in getting the WTO to rule on the issue of the EU's moratorium on GM foods, the verdict will be made by three unelected judges behind closed doors in a WTO courtroom in Geneva where the media and the public will not be admitted.

If the WTO rules that the EU moratorium on GM foods violates the so-called "free trade" laws, as it is likely to do, the US-led coalition will then have the right to impose massive punitive tariffs on imports from the "guilty" countries ‚ including Ireland. A similar "victory" occurred a few years ago, when the USA won the WTO dispute against the EU ban or hormone beef, and slapped 100% punitive tariffs on a basket of completely unrelated products including Roquefort cheese. This famously led to the destruction of a McDonald's restaurant in France, led by the anti-globalisation activist and Roquefort cheese producer JoséBové (popularly known as AstÈrix).


Tinkering with nature

According to Greenpeace International:

"Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally.

These genetically engineered (GE) organisms can reproduce and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby spreading to new environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.

Their release is "genetic pollution" and is a major threat because genetically engineered organisms cannot be recalled once released into the environment.

Because of commercial interests, the public is being denied the right to know about genetically engineered ingredients in the food chain, and therefore losing the right to avoid them.

While scientific progress on molecular biology has a great potential to increase our understanding of nature and provide new medical tools, it should not be used as justification to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment.

Biological diversity must be protected and respected as the global heritage of humankind, and one of our world's fundamental keys to survival."

Greenpeace opposes all patents on plants, animals and humans, as well as patents on their genes. Life is not an industrial commodity: "When we force life forms and our world's food supply to conform to human economic models rather than their natural ones, we do so at our own peril."

Regarding GM plants, leading US scientist Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org) described the problem as follows:

"Traditional agronomy transfers genes between plants whose kinship lets them interbreed. The new botany mechanically transfers genes between organisms that can never mate naturally: an antifreeze gene from a fish (Arctic flounder) rides a virus host to become part of a potato or a strawberry. Such patchwork, done by people who've seldom studied evolutionary biology and ecology, uses so-called "genetic engineering" ‚ a double misnomer. It moves genes but is not about genetics. "Engineering" implies understanding of the causal mechanisms that link actions to effects, but nobody understands the mechanisms by which genes, interacting with each other and the environment, express traits. Transgenic manipulation inserts foreign genes into random locations in a plant's DNA to see what happens. That's not engineering; it's the industrialization of life by people with a narrow understanding of it."

The total world area cultivated with GMO crops now stands at about 44.2 million hectares, up from 11 million hectares just three years ago. About 75% of this area is in industrialized countries. Substantial plantings largely concern soybean, maize, cotton and rape (also known as canola). About 16% of the total area planted to these crops is now under GM varieties, and two traits - insect resistance and herbicide tolerance - dominate.

In the USA, More than 70 percent of soybeans and a third of the U.S. corn crop come from biotech seeds. Plans are also under way by Monsanto to introduce biotech wheat. Most US food now contains GM residues. The US government requires no mandatory safety testing or labelling of any genetically engineered foods. The giant biotechnology and agribusiness firms are aggressively promoting and selling their produce to developing countries including Europe, South America, Asia and Africa under the false pretext that they are the solution to world hunger.

According to Louise Fresco, Assistant Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),

"GM crops are really designed to reduce input and labour costs in large scale production systems, not to feed the developing world or increase food quality. This claim rests on two fallacies: that people are hungry because there is not enough food produced in the world; and that genetic engineering increases food productivity."

Irish Organic conference keynote speaker Bernward Geier, who heads the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), says:

"GMOs are the ultimate attempt to manipulate nature. The ecological risks are enormous because of cross-pollination. In Canada, GM rape seed has already contaminated the whole country so that it is no longer possible to produce GM-free rape seed oil. In the US, the Monarch butterfly is poisoned by GM pollen. We cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes that were made with so-called "safe" pesticides, because then it will be too late. We should learn the lesson from pesticides and nuclear energy: we will never be able to control these technologies. They don't allow us to make mistakes. Making mistakes is human. I am human, I want to be able to make mistakes that can be fixed. Genetic engineering will not give us this tolerance. We have already crossed human genes with bulls, with pigs (with crippled pigs as the result), with fish, we have gone beyond any ethical and moral barrier. The question with GMOs is: once they escape, who is going to call them back? Nobody! We cannot get them back once they escape into nature. We cannot afford a GMO Chernobyl disaster!"

According to Fatal Harvest: the tragedy of industrial agriculture:

"Biotech companies have spent billions of dollars researching the effects of inserting fish genes into tomatoes, firefly genes into tobacco plants, human genes into farm animals, and creating thousands of other transgenic organisms. It has taken thousands of trials just to come up with herbicide-resistant crops that lead to lower yields and greater chemical use.

Biotechnology has yet to bring to market a single product that actually benefits consumers. As companies pass on the enormous costs of their research, why should the public pay more for biotech foods that offer no advantages and only risks?

The biotechnology industry continues to promote itself as the ultimate panacea for all the problems of industrial agriculture. A review of its real impacts reveals that it is not an antidote to modern agriculture but rather simply a continuation and exacerbation of today's food production crisis. Biotechnology increases environmental degradation, causes new food safety risks and threatens to increase world hunger. It is not the solution, but a major part of the problem."

Irish Organic Conference speaker Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of Bringing the Food Economy Home and a co-founder of the International Forum on Globalisation, said:

"This is an attempt to control the world's food supply. [Transnational biotech and agribusiness companies] have funded the research and the propaganda that has been pushing this technology as a way of solving hunger.

What is actually happening is that farmers around the world are now being forbidden to use their own local seeds that for generations have fed people. They are being forced to use hybridised seeds that do not regenerate! The research to examine the health and ecological impacts of this technology is virtually non-existent. There has been almost no funding. Those few scientists who managed to get a little funding, like Arpad Pushtai, found that rats fed with GM potatoes developed serious illnesses, their whole immune systems were under attack!

We absolutely need to have a moratorium on this technology, to have real research on the health and ecological impacts. We also need to have a clear economic examination of who benefits from this technology, and what it will mean for food and farmers for generations to come. It is really high time that the public said No! to this technology."

An Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2002 found that a substantial majority of European consumers do not support GM crops. This led to the wholesale cancellation of GM field trials by biotechnology companies in Europe.

According to the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association's Organic Matters magazine, the biggest decline was in the private sector (61%) with state research institutes and universities reducing field trials by up to 25%. Our own Food Commissioner has warned that "our unjustified fears and prejudices" concerning GM foods are causing biotech companies to leave the EU. They are now flocking to the US which is therefore becoming the global bastion of the biotech industry, as long as they can find enough unsuspecting developing countries to foist their technology unto.

The Ecologist Magazine's famous "Monsanto Files" - a 60 page exposÈ of the world's major biotech company ‚ became its best-selling issue ever - selling over 400,000 copies in a dozen languages.

Health and environmental security risks of GMOs

According to the Seeds of Doubt report published by the UK's Soil Association in 2002, the widespread use of GMOs in the USA and Canada since 1996 not only proves the reality of various health and ecological effects, but also ‚ in contradiction to GM propaganda ‚ has resulted in reduced crop yields, more use of toxic chemicals, no ready markets and decreased profits.

The European Commission admits that there are no appropriate means to research the long-term health risks from GMOs. But we already know that a change in the protein structure of an organism ‚ the core of so-called "genetic engineering" ‚ can cause allergies in those ingesting the organism. Gene-transfer and cross-pollination are obvious risks for the environment. They pose a massive risk to the genetic heritage and biodiversity of our native plants. It might drive many to extinction, and modified plants can become unpalatable for feeding insects.

The USA's Union of Concerned Scientists has shown that genetically engineered Bt crops could lead to pests becoming resistant to Bt. This non-chemical pesticide is essential to organic and conventional farmers throughout the world. If plant pests developed a resistance to it, it could fatally undermine the world's organic farming sector which has shown a steady 25% annual growth rate for the past 30 years, and now stands at §25bn in annual sales.

Scientists at Cornell University discovered that the pollen from Bt corn could be fatal to the monarch butterfly and other beneficial insects.

The British Medical Association says "There has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially harmful effects of GM foodstuffs on human health. On the basis of the precautionary principle, farm-scale trials should not be allowed to continue" A study by the US Department of Agriculture in 2000 revealed that there is no overall reduction in pesticide use with genetically engineered crops.

In 2000, researchers at Purdue University in Indiana, USA, found that the release of only a few genetically engineered fish into a large native fish population could make the original species extinct in only a few generations.

The people of Argentina - driven by economic collapse to the point of starvation - are now being forced fed genetically modified soya designed not for humans, but for cattle. The result is a disaster. Mothers in the provinces are giving soya "milk" to their children thinking that it can replace real milk. The GM feedstock soya which is now being consumed in Argentina is also extremely high in agro chemical traces. Typical traces are 20 ppm of Glyphosate compared to just 0.2 ppm in soya grown for human consumption. This causes malnutrition, anaemia, hormonal disruption, precocious sexual development, early pregnancies, stunted growth and rotten teeth.

In India, tests carried out by researcher Arpad Pushtai have shown that rats fed on GM-potatoes developed illnesses and weak immune systems, and that bees feeding on rape contaminated from GM cross-pollination actually build part of the GM-genes into their own colon bacteria and develop the same chemical resistance as the GM-plant.

Research at Imperial College in the UK has shown that inset larvae can use an engineered toxin present in GM Bt crops as a supplementary food source, possibly leading to un-natural breeds of pesticide-resistant superbugs similar to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that now infect most hospitals.

The EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has found that the productions costs which farmers' production costs may increase when using GM crops, following their discovery that GM oilseed rape costs may increase by 41%, and that conventional maize could cost farmers 9% more to grow due to contamination by genetically altered maize.


THE ORGANIC FARMING ORGANISATIONS' POLICY ON GMOS:


International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM):

IFOAM coordinates the global organic movement with some 750 affiliated organisations and institutions in around 100 countries. IFOAM is opposed to genetic engineering in agriculture, in view of the unprecedented danger it represents for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers.

IFOAM believes that genetic engineering in agriculture causes, or may cause:

  • Negative and irreversible environmental impacts

  • Release of organisms which have never before existed in nature and which cannot be recalled

  • Pollution of the gene-pool of cultivated crops, micro-organisms and animals

  • Pollution of off-farm organisms

  • Denial of free choice, both for farmers and consumers

  • Violation of farmers' fundamental property rights and endangerment of their economic independence

  • Practices which are incompatible with the principles of sustainable agriculture

  • Unacceptable threats to human health

Therefore, IFOAM calls for a ban on GMOs in all agriculture.


Soil association (UK):

"Genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) is still in its infancy and evidence so far shows that there are clear risks to human health and our environment

British organic food must stay completely GM free, even if this makes the commercial growing of GM crops impossible. Only this can ensure consumer choice and a fair deal for organic farmers. Current law allows up to one per cent of non-organic food to contain ëaccidental' GM material and still be classified GM-free.

Biotechnology companies must pay for any environmental, health or economic damage resulting from their products, and not consumers or farmers.

The farming community in the UK must be made aware of the problems North American farmers are experiencing since the commercial growing of GM crops.

If GM goes commercial, we could all be eating GM food

2002 was the last year of the UK government's three year programme for GM crops. After these trials commercialised growing of GM crops in the UK could become a reality. Soon the government must take the fundamentally important decision over whether to allow the commercial growing of GM crops.

The UK public has made it clear they do not want GM food. If commercial growing takes place there would be grave consequences for the whole farming community: No farmer ‚ organic or conventional ‚ will be able to escape GM contamination. Contamination will make their crops impossible to sell because consumers do not want GM food. In fact, nearly eight out of ten people say they do not want to eat GM technology

The Soil Association is to introduce a rigorous GM testing procedure to help farmers source animal feed and consumers buy food that is free from GM inputs. Under the proposals, all companies licensed to Soil Association organic standards who sell organic animal feed, will be required to test all risk ingredients on delivery and the final feed before it leaves their premises. Soil Association Certification (SA Cert) is the first UK organic certifier to require such testing. The Soil Association and SA Cert have discussed their proposals with UKROFS (the UK Register of Organic Food Standards), and have urged it to ensure that tests are adopted across the entire animal feed industry.

Testing will be required for all maize, soya and oil seed rape destined for organic animal feed, as these are the ingredients most at risk from GM contamination. Over the past year, feed has been tested for GM contamination by the Soil Association and the organic status of feed testing positive has been removed. Animal feed is being targeted as this is the destination for the majority of the GM crops currently imported."

Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association said: "It is outrageous that the burden of testing for GM contamination will fall on those who wish to remain GM-free. However, until the companies that are responsible for producing GM ingredients absorb the costs involved, we see this as the only way for us to assure farmers and consumers that Soil Association products avoid GMOs."


Boycotts, lawsuits and crop destructions

Environmental activists around the world have been fined for damaging GM crops, and farmers in the USA and Canada whose crops were contaminated by GM pollen have even been sued by GM companies who discovered GM genes in their crops.

But the law works both ways: a group of US farmers recently won a $110 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against StarkLink Logistics and Davnata USA, who engineered and marketed the unapproved GM Starlink maize which was slipped into the US food chain over two years ago. The biotech companies agreed to pay $110 million plus interest to farmers whose land was contaminated by the GM maize or who suffered a drop in maize prices because of consumer fears.

In the UK, four people were arrested under the charge of aggravated trespass for obstructing tractors being used to plant GM crops. But the Sherbourne Magistrates Court accepted their defence that they were acting reasonably because they were seeking to prevent damage to property by GM contamination of bee hives, maize crops and fields. Their acquittal is considered a landmark legal victory.

In Thailand, the Anti GMO Network will campaign for a boycott of NestlÈ food products if the company does not adopt a GM-fee food policy and stops conspiring with Monsanto and Novartis to promote GMO products.

In the Philippines, a coalition of peasant groups has called for a boycott of all Monsanto products.


The EU position: trade war not necessary because we're going to give consumers a choice

The Commission says the EU is already moving to end the moratorium on genetically modified foods with legislation on labelling and tracing which will open the way to the sale of the products in Europe's shops.

But U.S. farmers have complained the new rules will make it difficult and costly to export GMO products to the EU. They say they are already losing millions of dollars in sales.

In a press release on 13 May 2003, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "The EU's regulatory system for GMO's authorisation is in line with WTO rules: it is clear, transparent and non-discriminatory. There is therefore no issue that the WTO needs to examine. The US claim that there is a so-called "moratorium" but the fact is that the EU has authorised GM varieties in the past and is currently processing applications. So what is the real US motive in bringing a case?"

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer protection, stated: "We have been working hard in Europe to complete our regulatory system in line with the latest scientific and international developments. The finalisation process is imminent. This is essential to restore consumer confidence in GMOs in Europe."

In other words, the EU has already agreed in principle to the release of GMOs, so long as their presence in food products is labelled and people can be hoodwinked into accepting them.

EU Commissioner Byrne recalled that it is the lack of consumer demand for GM-products that accounts for the low sales of GMOs in the EU market. "Unless consumers see that the authorisation process is up to date and takes into account all legitimate concerns, consumers will continue to remain sceptical of GM products."

EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom added: "This US move is unhelpful. It can only make an already difficult debate in Europe more difficult. But in the meantime, the Commission strongly believes that we in Europe should move ahead with completing our legislation on traceability and labelling and on food and feed, currently before the European Parliament. We should not be deflected or distracted from pursuing the right policy for the EU."

A dispute over biotech foods would cast a big shadow over EU-U.S. trade ties at a time when the two are already engaged in a number of trade rows, but are supposed to be working together to further the Doha round of global trade liberalisation talks.

Byrne said he would be surprised if any case launched by the United States even made it to the stage of a WTO dispute panel as by that time the EU moratorium would be over.


Irish Government policy: do nothing until it is too late

Just as our Government's policy on the use of Shannon airport for the US war on Iraq failed to defend the neutrality enshrined in our Constitution, its "wait and see" policy on GMOs is looking towards Brussels for guidelines. Brussels, in turn, gets much of its policy information from the GM companies themselves. The fox is advising us on how to protect our chicken coop.

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent, TD, who will also speak at the Irish Organic Conference on 20 May, says the Irish government is open to allow the planting of GM crops on Irish soil, based on quick conclusions and the false biotech propaganda that this would make Irish farmers more competitive and profitable. Our government's pro-GM attitude mood is spurred by those who are excited about the scientific challenge and the novelty value of GMO rather than by thorough ecological science, medical concerns, ethics, farming reality, and plain common sense.

Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority, TEAGASC, published a report in 2000 entitled "Agri-Food Biotechnology - the way forward". This claimed that "biotechnology has the potential to be a powerful tool in the development of new foods with particular nutritional and health characteristics and well as revolutionising the speed of conventional plant and animal breeding." A source within TEAGASC who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the government has been quietly funding market research on Irish consumer's attitudes to GM foods, so as to better promote their use. According to this source, the Government pretends to support organic farming but really wants to turn its organic research centre and organic farm at Mellows College into a centre for the promotion of GM food crops.

The Minister of Food and Agriculture Joe Walsh declined an invitation to speak at the Irish Organic Conference, sending Minister of State Noel Treacy to speak in his place, but the latter backed out last week saying that Bertie had given him something more important to do.


The impact of GMOs on Irish farming

If we allow Ireland to become invaded by GMOs, no farmer - organic or conventional - will be able to escape GM contamination. Contamination will make their crops impossible to sell because consumers do not want GM food. The anticipated impacts will include loss of biodiversity and native species of plants, insects and animals, expensive lawsuits against farmers who become contaminated, increased farm production costs, reduced food security, long term health risks, reduction of consumer food choice, and a serious trade impediment for Ireland's burgeoning organic sector which has great untapped potential to increase its share of the €25bn global organic market.


Preliminary recommendations for action

The Irish Government should pass immediate legislation to protect our food and environmental security as follows:

  • Make Ireland a GMO-free zone like Wales.

  • Protect the fundamental property right of all farmers not to have their farms contaminated and their economic independence endangered by GM pollution.

  • Prohibit the use of GM ingredients in animal feed for poultry, livestock and fish.

  • Hold GMO companies liable for all genetic pollution caused by the products they own.

  • Prohibit all further "field testing" of GM crops because of the impossibility to prevent contamination of the surrounding ecosystem by insect or wind-borne pollen, seed dispersal, and horizontal gene transfer.

  • Hold producers and users of GMOs fully responsible for preventing the spread of the GMOs and their properties, and for the costs of GM pollution.

  • Organic producers should not have to prove their crops are uncontaminated and should not bear the burden of problems caused by others.

  • Ensure the right to use the label "not produced with GM technology" on all non-GM food.

Concerned journalists, citizens and stakeholders are invited to attend the Irish Organic Conference on 20 May, which includes a morning panel discussion and an afternoon open space strategy co-ordination seminar to chart a pathway for action. Details may be found on the web at www.irish-organic.com.


RELATED WEB SITES

Irish Organic Conference:
http://www.irish-organic.com

Convergence Festival 2003:
http://www.sustainable.ie/convergence

A Tale of Two Botanies: succinct critique of genetic engineering by Amory Lovins:
http://www.global-vision.org/worldviews/lovins1.html

Interview with IFOAM director Bernward Geier, who will speak at the Irish Organic Conference:
http://www.irish-organic.com/interviews/geier.html

Interview with Helena Norberg-Hodge, who will speak at the Irish Organic Conference:
http://www.irish-organic.com/interviews/norberg-hodge.html

The EU press release regarding the WTO's impending GM trade war:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/trade/goods/agri/pr130503_en.htm

For more information on the EU's view of GMOs, please go to:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/trade/goods/agri/index_en.htm
http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/gmo/gmo_index_en.html
http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/biotechnology/index_en.htm

Soil Association:
http://www.soilassociation.org

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements:
http://www.ifoam.org

Greenpeace:
http://www.greenpeace.org

Center for Science in the Public Interest:
http://www.cspinet.org

Planet Ark:
http://www.planetark.org

The Ecologist magazine:
http://www.theecologist.org

GM news:
http://www.gm-news.co.uk


RELATED BOOKS

Fatal Harvest: the tragedy of industrial agriculture, edited by Andrew Kimbrell, distributed by Island Press. ISBN: 1559639415. www.islandpress.org.

Bringing the Food Economy Home: local alternatives to global agribusiness, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Todd Merrified and Steven Gorelick. Zed Books, 2002. ISBN: 1842772333. www.isec.org.uk.

Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, released on 22 May 2003 by IUCN - The World Conservation Union, on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity.


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