Although the vote passed, it was opposed by the representatives of Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Slovenia, which put up a joint front against EU pressure to scrap zero tolerance for GM-contaminated animal feed. Luxembourg abstained from the vote.
EU governments and lawmakers have three months to approve or reject the committee’s decision before the new ruling can be adopted by the EU executive as law.
A European biotech news website said the legislation promised to “open the floodgates for GMOs”.
Cyprus has long opposed genetically-modified crops, with seven municipalities and its Natura 2000 zones all declared GMO-free.
But in 2005, when Cypriot legislators attempted to segregate modified imports on shop shelves, the US government warned that the move could stygmatise biofoods. The US sternly reminded Cyprus of its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organisation.
Greece is also against genetically modified organisms in food and has invoked a safeguard clause upholding restrictions on their cultivation. All 54 country prefectures have been declared GMO-free zones.
Greek activists were alarmed to find that third-grade highschool biology books were full of ‘misleading information’ when transgenic and conventional crops were compared. They point out that a number of pro-GM seminars, supported mostly by corporate-driven academics or institutes, have also been a cause for concern.
Meanwhile, according to Biotech Watch in Greece, farmers and consumers have incomplete and confused information regarding GMOs.
Only a mere handful of organic farmers were aware that genetically-modified seeds were on the European market. Even fewer had heard about herbicide-tolerant crops or knew about how genes transfer to other crops.
The EU livestock industry relies heavily on animal feed produced outside the 27-member bloc, importing 51 million tonnes of feed last year, roughly half of which comprised authorised GM soya beans from Brazil and Argentina, developed by US biotech company Monsanto.
Environment groups say there is no need for a contamination threshold “…unless you are a shareholder in Monsanto or other US biotech multinationals and you want to expand into Europe”.
In an article in last September’s edition of the American magazine The Nation, the biotech giant was accused of hiring a firm linked to Blackwater to infiltrate anti-GM groups. Blackwater, infamous for an allegedly unprovoked shooting spree in Baghdad, underwent a re-branding exercise after the incident.
Monsanto firmly denied the claim yet admitted that a firm by the name of Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS) had been hired to provide the corporation with reports about activities or groups that could “pose a risk to the company, its personnel or its global operations”.
“All information provided by TIS was developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information.”
The company added that before hiring the intelligence service it ensured that “this was a completely separate entity from Blackwater”.
But according to Source Watch, TIS is the merger of three companies, one of which is the Terrorism Research Centre, owned by Blackwater founder/owner Erik Prince.
Total Intelligence Solutions was launched by two CIA directors from counter-terrorism and operations “to bring the intelligence gathering skills of the US Central Intelligence Agency directly to the board room”. Total Intelligence Solutions operations include the scanning of internet blogs and websites.
On the opposite side, activists are monitoring the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which is said to be pumping billions of dollarsto transform Africa to aGMO-friendly continent.
“When the research, technical extension and US foreign aid is all in place, Monsanto will swoop in for the feast,” fears agro-ecologist Eric Holt Gimenez, executive director of Food First (Institute for Food and Development Policy).
His book on the world food crisis, Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice, sets out “how to recapture the production and distribution of food from the tyranny of unchecked markets”.
The Lisbon Treaty allows for a European citizens’ initiative to request new EU legislation if backed by a million signatures from a significant number of member states.
Currently bogged down in bureaucracy, Greenpeace has criticised it for “making Europeans jump through flaming hoops”.
Over a million signatures have been collected by Avaaz and Greenpeace in support of a ban on genetically modified crops until health and environment risk assessment improves.
Avaaz is a global web movement which aims to “bring people-powered politics to decision-making”.
Greenpeace urges that the citizens’ initiative should turn up the heat on what the European Commission is obliged to do once a million citizens have clearly expressed their concerns.