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Blog Posts: Europe

October 1st, 2014

Offsetting: Financial Hocus-Pocus Posing as Conservation

By Eve Mitchell

What Is This “No Net Loss” Concept?
  • Greenwashing of environmental destruction
  • Financial hocus-pocus masquerading as conservation
  • A false assumption that nature exists to serve us
  • An effort to put a price tag on nature
  • An attempt to sell biodiversity offsetting to a skeptical public
  • A critical call for you to write the European Commission and tell them, nature is not for sale!

The EU No Net Loss Plan
Is Just No Good

Stand Up for YOUR Natural Heritage Now

 Write NOW
(Before 17 October Deadline)
 

 

You can’t end up right if you start out wrong. At least it’s awful hard (and takes a big helping of blind luck).

The EU is showing every indication of making a very bad turn indeed on biodiversity offsetting, and you can help us put on the brakes. Biodiversity offsetting is all the rage lately because it offers a seemingly easy way for governments to allow habitats to be destroyed by companies that can afford to pretend to make up for the damage somewhere else. It doesn’t work.

Offsetting is getting a lot of attention, including from esteemed organisations like the London Zoological Society. The zoo hosted a conference on offsetting in April attended by a host of representatives of companies that make money from this kind of thing. They were addressed by no less than the (now former) UK Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Patterson offering official support.

An extreme version of the erroneous biodiversity offsetting is the No Net Loss concept. No Net Loss (or NNL in the jargon) says you can somehow recreate the nature you destroy without really causing any “damage” at all, even if you don’t “replace” like-for-like (so destroying a salt water marsh and replacing it with forest of the same “value” equates to no overall damage done – it’s mind boggling).

We’re not buying it and neither should you. Here’s how you can help: 

The European Commission is holding a consultation on adopting NNL as a key principle in Europe. The consultation is part of implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (which “aims to halt biodiversity loss and to conserve ecosystem services”). The Strategy’s Action 7 is “to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”. The Commission proposes to use NNL and biodiversity offsetting to do it.

The Commission says the purpose of its consultation is “to gather views” about that proposal. We need to tell them we don’t like it one bit.

Nature Not For Sale has written a letter to the Commission we can all sign. Please do.

The letter explains our reasons for rejecting offsetting.

It tells the Commission, “Nature is a common good that all share rights to and have responsibilities over.” You get the idea. Please help us tell the Commission to get the EU headed in the right direction. I did.

September 16th, 2014

Keep Calm and Ban Fracking: Shale Gas in the UK

By Geert Decock

A view of the South Downs in from Devil's Dyke in southern England. CC by SA©IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org

A view of the South Downs in from Devil’s Dyke in southern England. CC by SA(c) IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org.

OK, I admit: I had never before heard about the South Downs National Park in England. However, last week, I learned that the planning committee of the park had voted unanimously to turn down an application by shale gas explorer, Celtique Energie, to start drilling and maybe fracking at Fernhurst, a two hour drive south of London.

A couple of hours later, I can call myself a South Downs fan. Yes, I want to go on holiday there. Except maybe for blue sky and warm temperatures, the South Downs has lots to offer. Wikipedia informs me that the South Downs has “a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries”. Within the park, there are 37 “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”, protecting the very little that remains of the old chalk grassland. Needless to say, South Downs is a “popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers”.

And by drilling and fracking in such an area of outstanding beauty, UK shale gas explorers hope to win the hearts and minds of locals and public opinion more generally? How out of touch can you be?

A recent report of the federal environment agency of Germany (covered in our previous blog post) details what is required to extract shale gas from an area of 260 square kilometers (about 16 by 16 kilometers) over a period of 10 years.

  • 144 well pads (one per every 2 square kilometers!)
  • 864-1440 wells (assuming 6-10 horizontal drills /pad)
  • 12.000-48.000 truck movements per well

Despite these facts, the CEO of Celtique has the temerity to state that his application “has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds”. What is more likely to be the case, is that the planning committee analysed the existing pressures on their national park from agriculture, traffic and housing development and drew the common sense conclusion that adding fracking to the mix simply was not going to work.

Despite all this, the UK government’s energy strategy continues to be “going all out for shale”, stressed Prime Minister Cameron. The efforts of shale enthusiasts like David Cameron (but also other mainstream political parties) will continue to fight a losing battle, as people get better informed about shale gas and fracking.

In the latest licencing round, almost 60 percent of the UK territory was offered to shale gas explorers to start drilling for shale gas. It should not come as a surprise that new groups are popping up like mushrooms in areas singled out for shale gas drilling. Some of the most vocal groups are Residents Action on Fylde Fracking in the Blackpool area or the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, where exploratory drilling was halted last summer due to protests. They are not only determined to stop this terrible development, but they are well organized. Just take a look at all the resources available on the website of a grassroots campaign like Frack Off. This summer, the No Dash for Gas campaign hosted a “Reclaim the power” anti-fracking action camp. And they have the support from larger groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The combination of a vibrant and growing anti-fracking movement with the non-stop PR disasters committed by shale gas explorers and the UK government will mean that their shale gas strategy will slowly but surely grind to a halt.

With more than half of the UK territory now licensed for shale gas and oil exploration, anti-fracking groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be at the forefront of the campaign to ban fracking. On October 11, the Global Frackdown – an international day of action against fracking – will offer a great opportunity to express our solidarity with those communities in the UK under siege from the shale gas industry and its political supporters.

Join us on October 11 for the Global Frackdown: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/.

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September 2nd, 2014

Citizens Won: Greece’s Water Will Remain in Public Hands

By David Sánchez

Referendum about water privatization in Thessaloniki, Greece. Credit: Save Greek Water

Referendum about water privatization in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Credit: Save Greek Water

There is an ongoing struggle in southern Europe, where water privatization is promoted as a way out of the economic crisis. But this summer, a turnaround victory was achieved in Greece: the Council of State ruled against the privatization of Greek public water companies. Citizens have shown, again, that privatization can be defeated through a combination of grassroots mobilization, legal actions and international solidarity.

The story goes back some years ago. Under conditions imposed by the Troika (which includes the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) to reduce Greece’s debt, public water companies in Athens and Thessaloniki were about to be privatized by the government, among other painful and socially unfair measures.

The mobilization against this measure was massive, and great campaigns were launched in Athens, with a great success in media, and Thessaloniki, where a popular referendum showed an overwhelming opposition to water privatization. A solidarity effort was coordinated by the European Water Movement (Food & Water Europe is an active member). Over 130 civil society organisations and trade unions teamed up with 50 members of the European Parliament to send a letter to the bidders of the public water company in Thessaloniki urging them to drop their bid. Those companies included French multinational Suez Environnement and Israeli group Mekorot. The situation in Greece was central in the campaign for the European Citizen’s Initiative that collected nearly 1.9 million signatures to support the human right to water and to stop liberalization in the water sector.

This victory in Greece sends a clear signal to the European Commission and to the transnational water companies that were trying to make profit out of Greek crisis. The myth that people cannot resist against the Troika’s demands has collapsed. And as our colleagues from Save Greek Water say: “we can all, without exceptions, feel proud of this major victory.”

While we definitely celebrate this new major step to stop water privatization in Europe, we are aware that we cannot be naïve. Public water management is still under threat in Greece and the rest of Europe as long as the European Union and the U.S. negotiate a new free trade agreement (known as TTIP or TAFTA), as long as the Troika pushes for water privatization in many other countries, and as long as the European Commission goes on with their liberalization agenda. These threats will require renewed mobilization for the recognition of water as a human right and a common good.

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August 29th, 2014

Laugh? Cry? UK Plans to Let Big Biz Police Itself

By Eve Mitchell

Meat_AisleThe UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has a plan: Businesses should have a bigger say in how regulations are enforced.

Admitting a “significant shift” in its press release, Defra “hailed a change that puts business in charge of driving reform.” The goal is “lightening needless burdens without weakening essential controls.” This made me squirt tea out my nose.

To share a few recent examples of the way “needless burdens” are holding back food business:

1) Horsemeat is still present in European beef supplies, and the UK government is reportedly stalling the release of a now 16-month-old investigation report. Publication is said to be “blocked amid government concerns that the public would be frightened by the idea that criminals were still able to interfere with their food.” Too right. All the promises about the “integrity” of our food system from supermarkets, and all the reassurance from the government that meat is safe because it is traceable, yet we still don’t know where the horse came from, who did it, or what will be done about it. Hard to see the needless burdens there.

2) The fallout from the Guardian expose on the scandalous things going on in the UK poultry industry grows ever murkier. Having been told by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that it inspected the factories concerned and gave them ratings of “good” and “generally satisfactory” (makes your mouth water, no?), we have since learned that in fact the FSA now admits that “dirty birds from the floor being thrown back into food production [was] a serious breach.” The “needless burden” of regulation means that no penalties will be issued as the company says it’s fixed the problem. As of today the FSA website still says it “will publish the completed audits in due course.”

3) Then there’s the salmon labelled “wild Scottish” in supermarkets that turns out to be intensively farmed Norwegian fish. “Foreign-owned corporations are exploiting the world-renowned and prized image of Scottish salmon – an iconic image of Scotland – to obtain a price premium.” International industrial fish giant Marine Harvest insists the industry is “heavily” or “highly regulated” (in Scotland in 2012 here, and in Ireland in 2013 here). Yet oddly, despite the huge furore over horsemeat labelled as beef, this burden apparently does not mean we can always tell what’s being sold on supermarket shelves.

4) Meanwhile, the ongoing European salmonella outbreak shows us how dangerous failure is in a complex international food supply chain. It reminded me, naturally enough, that on July 28 jury selection started in the U.S. federal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America bosses over the vast salmonella food recall in 2008-9. The three face a 76-count indictment that they “created fake certificates showing their products were uncontaminated when laboratory results showed otherwise.” One defendant admitted to faking documents. No mere infringement, we learn the plant was “not fit to produce products for human consumption.” For readers unfamiliar with the case, 714 people in 46 states were infected and nine people died in the outbreak. For Americans this is also contamination on an iconic level – contaminated peanut butter gets right to the heart of things, like school lunchboxes, and deliberate adulteration of food is exactly the kind of thing that regulation is supposed to prevent. This failure of proper enforcement, and how far the impacts can travel, is also exactly the kind of thing we need to worry about as the US EU trade negotiations continue.

There are other signs of strain in our food supply, too. At the end of July an antibiotic banned since 1995 as an increased cancer risk turned up in animal feed supplied by a Dutch company to farms in several other EU countries. Since in all likelihood this feed has already been used, it may be necessary to cull as many as 12,700 cattle and 50,000 pigs to clear the drug from the food system. Amid all of this, UK meat inspectors have gone on strike because the FSA refused to give them a 1 percent cost of living pay rise. If these are the problems we know about, I for one am worried about what we don’t yet know, and who’s looking out for us if the inspectors are this angry.

As citizens we’ve had to get used to having serious questions to our government answered by emails that sign off “Regards, Customer Contact Unit, Defra”, but inviting industry to regulate itself in such circumstances is surely taking this business-friendly thing a bit too far.

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August 13th, 2014

The Horseburgergate Cliffhanger: Episode III — Where’s The Report?

By Eve Mitchell

Fair FoodRemember that huge scandal about illegal horsemeat in Europe’s food chain? Ever hear about who was responsible? No, me neither.

We good citizens of the UK were recently told that the latest round of testing found no horsemeat in meat products on sale in our shops. We were assured that of 50,876 sample results submitted to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) since February 2013, only 47 were positively horse, and none at all since the June 2013 report (remember the industry does the testing and then sends in the results). We’re also assured that no horse was found in the testing the UK has done as part of the EU-wide screening programme of processed beef products.

The horsemeat isn’t exactly gone, though. The Commission did find 16 new cases of beef contaminated with horsemeat across the EU, a development the Commissioner calls “encouraging”. Well over a year ago French authorities suggested some of the “horse” (that is supposed to be beef) might actually be donkey. Odd then, isn’t it, that the tests only look for, at most, beef, horse, lamb, goat, pork, chicken and turkey? Also, they only tested products that were supposed to be more than 15 percent beef, so the cheaper end of the market could still be a free-for-all. I guess we’ll have to live with all that for now – we’ve got bigger problems.

The UK Government says again, “The full participation [in testing] reflects the Government’s commitment to consumer protection and tackling food fraud.” It’s not the hardest tackle I’ve ever seen. We’re told that in 2013 the Commission “confirmed recurrent non-compliance with legislation applicable to labelling of meat products in most Member States”. That’s big. Really big. That needs a serious response.

Yet what we still haven’t been told is what comes next, or who put the horsemeat in the system or how they will be brought to book. It seems fair that whomever did this should be heavily fined, at least, to help the taxpayer cover the costs of all this testing and investigating. The fine-toothed inquiry into the mess conducted by the UK Parliament turned into a blame game extraordinaire, with supermarkets, food companies, regulatory agencies and Government Ministers all trying to slime out from under the weight of scrutiny. The inquiry Committee said way back in July 2013 it was “dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity”.

Slow, indeed. In January 2013 the Government had promised a full report of its investigations, then finally in mid-May 2014 we gathered we’d get the report “within the next month”. That didn’t happen, as the Government demanded “more detail” from the report author. A conveniently-timed Cabinet reshuffle in July offered the chance to delay again until some unnamed point in the next Parliament (which next sits in September). Meanwhile, allegations fly that the report’s author has been told to “tone down” his findings. Maybe he gave them a bit too much detail?

Not that things at the EU level are much better. The Commission says that when horse is found marked as beef, “appropriate enforcement measures” include market withdrawal, tracing, relabeling, extra controls for food business operators and “penalties”. The old song had it wrong: the word “prosecutions” actually seems harder to say than “sorry”.

Former Food Minister Owen Paterson said way back in February 2013 the horsemeat scandal was a “fraud and a conspiracy against the public”. Of all the judgments he got wrong, that one does ring true. The real question now is: how high does the conspiracy go?

PS – If you thought you could avoid all this by getting chicken, just hold your horses (sorry, couldn’t resist). As the Guardian and EcoStorm have helpfully showed us, elements of the UK chicken industry that supply supermarkets and fast food outlets are just plain nasty – and that’s before we’re treated to a TTIP/RAFTA race-to-the-bottom on food standards. Rest assured, the good old FSA is on the case: it is “conducting audits and investigations at the plants. These are underway today [25 July] and the findings will be published in due course.” Initial findings are that standards at the two poultry plants involved are “good” and “generally satisfactory”. Bon appétit!

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August 6th, 2014

Germany’s Environment Agency Calls for an End to Fracking

By Geert Decock

Fracking rig and wastewater pit

How far do you need to sit from the halls of power to not be influenced by constant lobbying and spin from Big Oil & Gas? The correct answer may be surprising: 1.5 hours exactly. How so? That is how long it takes to drive from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in central Berlin to the Federal Environment Agency of Germany in Desslau-Rosslau, southwest of Berlin.

Just last week, the Federal Environment Agency released a 600+ page report giving a detailed outline of the many risks involved in fracking. This research led its president Maria Krautzberger to this conclusion (translated from German): “Fracking is and remains a risky technology and therefore requires considerable limits to protect the environment and health. As long as the significant risks involved in this technology cannot yet be predicted with certainty and controlled, there should be no fracking in Germany to extract shale gas and coalbed methane.”

Her warning stands in sharp contrast with the approach of other European governments, e.g. in the UK and Poland, who have put large swaths of their territory up for grabs for shale gas exploration companies. Given the serious water-related risks of fracking, the German Federal Environment Agency states clearly that a lot of areas should be exempted from fracking: drinking water protection zones, spa areas, nature reserves and the catchment areas of lakes and reservoirs.

The report of the Federal Environment Agency also clearly confirms something that anti-fracking campaigners have been saying for years, namely that the treatment of the flowback from shale gas wells remains an unresolved issue. (Flowback is the liquid that flows back to the surface when a well is fracked.) The flowback contains heavy metals and aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene. Sometimes, radioactive materials can also flow to the surface. Again, president Maria Krautzberger: “No company has been able to offer a concept for the sustainable water treatment of flowback from fracking operations”.

What about industry’s oft repeated talking point that natural gas can be a transition fuel to a zero-carbon power generation? Again, the German Federal Environment Agency begs to differ with those who link shale gas and the fight against climate change: “The fracking technology is not a miracle cure for climate protection that can make the transition to renewable energies easier. It would be better, if our country would concentrate on forms of energy that are demonstrably better for the environment, such as renewable energies”.

The Germans are well known for their ‘Gründlichkeit’, or thoroughness. If their environment agency makes such strong claims about the risks of fracking after a couple of years of research, we better take their findings seriously!

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June 27th, 2014

On Fracked Gas, Same Rhetoric—Different Century

By Geert Decock

Are you familiar with the British comedian Rowan Atkinson? Does Mr. Bean maybe ring a bell? Then maybe you know the sketch comedy piece where Atkinson plays a rather deluded Member of Parliament who makes a nonsensical speech, high on rhetoric, low on substance. I had to think back to Atkinson’s “Sir Marcus Browning MP”, when reading the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks last week that Russia is behind the growing anti-fracking movement in Europe, fomenting opposition to shale gas and even funding anti-fracking groups. Sir Marcus Browning finishes his speech (spoiler alert!) by insisting he doesn’t want to end up like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat… that isn’t there”. By making his comments about Russian support for the European anti-fracking movement, Rasmussen looks exactly like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat … that isn’t there”.

These accusations of Russia’s influence in the anti-fracking movement have repeatedly been made. And until today, without a shred of evidence. Read the full article…

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June 12th, 2014

GM Crops in the EU – Game On

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeAs widely predicted, the European Council agreed this morning to the compromise proposal on so-called national “opt outs” for GM crops. What happens next will be interesting indeed.

Luxembourg and Belgium abstained from the vote. Every other EU Member State supported the deal, but that doesn’t give a full picture of the situation by any means.

Around half of the Member States said outright they would ban GM crops or alluded that they would. Others noted the difficulties yet to be faced in agreeing coexistence rules needed to protect non-GM agriculture from GM contamination, including across international boundaries in our relatively small countries. None dismissed the delicacy of the next stage – securing the agreement with the EU Parliament. One speaker called the emerging agreement “historic,” and given the issue was first broached in 2009, I suppose that’s true to a point. More than one country called for the revision of the ten-year-old regulations of GMOs, and others the need to update and revise how Europe conducts its risk assessments of GMOs (as unanimously called for by this same Council way back in 2008 – pdf). That’s a big can of worms indeed. Several speakers reminded the Council of the strong public opposition to GM food and crops back home. At the end of the meeting, Italy said that the agreement “demonstrates the unity of Europe”.

I heard a lot of things during this meeting, but unanimity wasn’t one of them.

So on we go to that next stage, where a brand new Parliament will have to take on a highly controversial issue that touches on food production and safety, public health, international trade, environmental protection, national sovereignty, democratic accountability and corporate control of agriculture all in one go. Good luck to them. Good luck to us. We will be relying on the countries who signalled disquiet with any number of issues in this deal (while agreeing to it anyway, in the spirit of cooperation of course), to insist those issues are clearly addressed and real answers provided. The pressure being applied will make those lines hard to hold.

If the Parliament and Council can someday wrestle an actual agreement out of all that, we’ll then have to see if the biotech industry plays ball and permits any bans to stand. If anything like half of EU countries ban GM crops in all or parts of their territories it will give the industry a pretty big headache of multilingual regulations to adhere to across what is supposed to be a Single Market. That nagging issue of coexistence will be there, as well as liability for any damage done by their products, particularly if that damage occurs across international borders into areas banning the crops in the first place. Since the chief GM lobby group EuropaBio has already put out a tetchy statement of disappointment saying, “This deal shows the lack of willingness of the EU institutions and Member States to correctly implement the current regulatory framework for GMO approvals they had decided upon themselves,” it isn’t at all clear the rules of the game will be agreed by all the players. Then again the industry has the WTO red card in its back pocket they can use to challenge any ban or start a trade war. Mere citizens have no such backstop.

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June 4th, 2014

GM Crops for Europe – The Deal Nobody Wants

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeFor those of you who don’t spend hours every day keeping up with the details of EU agriculture politics, I’ll start simple: Last week Europe took a big step toward GM crops. If this bothers you, you need to tell your elected representatives, and you need to do it now.

Here’s the latest: On 28 May, a preparatory meeting agreed that on 12 June the Council will vote on a proposal for so-called “opt outs” on GM crops. There’s every indication the Council will vote in favour.

This is where it gets a little more confusing. Giving countries the right to ban GM crops, as the proposal is often described, sounds like a good thing. It’s not that easy.

The proposal (a leaked version of which is available at the bottom of the page here) is motivated by the desire in some quarters to make it easier for the EU to authorise GM crops and thereby easier to grow them. In our Single Market such an authorisation applies to all 28 Member States.

Countries wishing to “opt out” of approved GM crops step into a complex and legally uncertain process under this proposal. The first (and believe it or not most straight-forward) step is that the country can ask the Commission to ask the GM company’s permission for the country to opt out of the crop in question. This is a shocking assault on democratic decision making, underpinned by a clear conflict of interest for the biotech industry, which one expects will prefer to take its chances that some farmers will go ahead and grow the stuff anyhow, which in the Single Market would be perfectly legal.

If the company declines this request to ban its own products, the next two potential ways for a country to “opt out” of a GM crop are heavily qualified, dripping with phrases like:

  • “There should be the possibility for that Member State to adopt reasoned measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of that GMO once authorised” (that doesn’t feel very robust. What does “reasoned” mean?)
  • “On the basis of grounds distinct from those assessed according to the harmonized set of Union rules” (so discrepancies in scientific understanding on safety aren’t allowed.)
  • “When new and objective circumstances justify an adjustment” (wonderfully vague – whose objectivity counts here? Who judges what is justified?)

It is all dreadfully unclear legally, and all options require the acquiescence of the company that has refused to permit the country from opting out in the first place. From what we can see from the leaked documents, any attempt by a country to ban an approved GM crop could wind up in court, and quite possibly a trade war via the WTO and/or other international trade agreements for the whole of the EU – a potent weapon indeed.

Last time pro-GM EU countries tried this in 2012, the Germans told the Council they objected to the breach of the Single Market, and the UK objected to both the breach of the Single Market and the lack of legal clarity, saying we “need to make the system work, not worse.” The UK, “While it is possible to draft text that looks legally sound it is difficult to envisage how a ban could be substantiated and evidenced in practice in a way that is strong enough to withstand a WTO challenge.”

How times have changed.

Complex internal wrangles following a change of Government have pushed Germany to support the proposal. Officially the UK now says, “This proposal should help unblock the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops for cultivation.” The new positions of these big hitters suggest the proposal will get the votes it needs to achieve a qualified majority and pass.

Not that the biotech industry is happy with this proposal either. André Goig, Chair of EuropaBio, said, “To renationalise a common policy, based on non-objective grounds, is a negative precedent and contrary to the spirit of the single market.

In a nutshell the political situation is:

So who is this deal for?

The sad irony of this situation is that Europe’s prudent precaution about GM crops appears to be threatened just as our friends in the U.S. are realising they want off the GM treadmill. They are voting for the kind of labels we already have here in the EU, and given everything we know about informed markets rejecting GM foods, those labels could really help tip the balance and ensure only those who actually choose to eat it find it on their plates. The resulting constriction of the market could help knock the GM industry down a peg or two, which would help all of us, including our colleagues in Africa who are being lined up as the next market to crack. Without the profits from unlabelled U.S. sales, the biotech companies might find it a bit harder to roll out their plans.

We’re entering dangerous waters. Whether you live in the U.S. or the EU tell your elected representatives you don’t want GM crops. Remember: If we refuse to put GM food in our kitchens (including the meat, milk and eggs from animals reared on GM feed), supermarkets won’t stock it. If supermarkets won’t stock it, farmers will think twice before planting it. Those of us who follow the details will keep pushing for the meaningful labels most of us want, but your help is indispensable.

May 7th, 2014

What’s Beyond GMO Contamination?

By David Sánchez

Read “Organic Farmers Pay the Price for Contamination” in English or Spanish.

Felix is an organic farmer in Spain, the country that hosts 90 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. He grows grains, alfalfa and vegetables. His organic maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and therefore he lost the organic certification for his 7.7 hectare farm. He lost €14,756 (US$20,585) as a result of the preventive measures he took to avoid contamination in addition to the direct loss of being forced to sell his harvest in the conventional markets. According to the Spanish law, he has no one to blame, so cannot claim for damages. 

Tom is an organic farmer in the U.S., a country where 90 percent of soy and 93 percent of maize area is planted with GM varieties. He grows maize and is forced to take many measures to prevent contamination: planting buffer strips, delaying planting or performing extra tests, with median annual costs up to US$8,000 (€5,735). One year his maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and the buyer rejected his load, with a median loss in that season of US$4,500 (€3,226). He has no one to blame for the damage either.

The first story was reported by Greenpeace a few years ago. It just shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of GM cultivation in Spain. The second could be the story of any of the organic farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch and OFARM earlier this year, just released in Europe in (available in English and in Spanish).

The stories of organic and GM-free farmers in both countries are extremely similar. They’ve been forced to abandon organic cultivation of crops where there is a GM variety, incur additional labour costs and economic damages, faced financial insecurity and experienced strained relations between neighbours—without any legal protections. Clearly, what the U.S. Government, the European Commission and the industry call “coexistence” simply mean imposing GM crops. 

Nevertheless, there is one important difference: the EU only allows the cultivation of one GM maize variety so far. But the reality of European small-scale agriculture shows that the situations in those countries that allow GM cultivation (Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic) are already too serious to be ignored. And this is something the European Commission should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to approve a new GM crop, a maize engineered by Pioneer to kill insects and resist herbicides.

We have mounting scientific evidence on the right way to create a food system to achieve sustainability and social justice goals. And the European Commission will have to decide whom do they want to stand for. Will they stand for Felix and the organic farmers, a growing sector that creates employment and puts new energies in rural areas? Or will they stand for Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta, who are lobbying hard to get their GM crops approved in Europe? The answer will be coming soon.

Tell the European Food Safety Authority: If it’s dangerous you want less NOT more!

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