NNA News for civil society

European judgement with a sting in the tail for biotech companies

Wed, 19 Oct 2011 | By NNA staff


LUXEMBOURG (NNA) – A ruling by the European Court of Justice (EJC) in Luxembourg last month that honey and food supplements containing pollen derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be classed as foodstuffs produced from GMOs could have far-reaching consequences across the European Union and beyond.      

Foodstuffs produced from GMOs cannot be marketed without prior authorisation.

The ruling was the result of a case brought in the German courts by a beekeeper, Karl Heinz Bablok, with the support of an alliance of ecological and environmental and farming organisations, including Demeter, set up by the anthroposophical Mellifera beekeeping network.

Bablok took the Bavarian authorities to court because they conducted a field trial with genetically modified MON 810 maize from biotech giant Monsanto within the flight radius of his bees.

Bablock had to destroy all of his honey when it became contaminated with the MON 810 pollen from the maize because otherwise he could have opened himself up to criminal proceedings as MON 810 is not licensed as an ingredient of honey in the EU.

The German courts passed the case on to the ECJ for a clarifying ruling with regard to EU law which reached the conclusion that “products such as honey and food supplements containing such pollen constitute foodstuffs which contain ingredients produced from GMOs within the meaning of the regulation”.

As a consequence biotech companies like Monsanto or authorities which run field tests which inadvertently contaminate non-genetically modified products nearby could be opening themselves up to claims for compensation.

“No farmer can afford to cultivate such genetically modified crops any longer,” Mellifera said, “because of the threat of compensation claims.”

“Consumers can be certain that they are getting a pure and natural product with German honey,” the network said. “Better still, the ruling affects almost all foodstuffs and it does so across Europe.”

Producers of honey from outside the European Union will also have to make sure that their product does not contain any traces of GMOs.

“The ECJ ruling highlights how conventional and genetically modified agriculture cannot co-exist. When a GM crop is grown in open fields, contamination is impossible to stop,” Greenpeace EU agriculture policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer said on the organisation’s website.

“It’s a scandal there’s no Europe-wide liability regime to protect beekeepers or farmers affected by GM crops. Monsanto and the Bavarian state that grew the crop should be held fully liable for this genetic pollution and compensate any beekeeper affected,” she added.

According to Friends of the Earth, the ruling indirectly challenges the new European regulation abandoning Europe’s zero-tolerance of unauthorised GM traces in animal feed. This new legislation, introduced in July 2011, as a result of pressure from industry, permitted traces of unapproved GMOs despite the absence of a full safety review.

The ruling was also welcomed by other campaigners against a weakening of the zero-tolerance policy with regard to unauthorised GM traces in foods.

“The global player Monsanto and the other biotech giants are using unprecedented resources for marketing, lobbying and legal disputes. But the ruling and the way in which it was achieved shows that spirit rules the world, not money,” Mellifera said.

END/nna/cva

Item: 111019-01EN Date: 19 October 2011

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