GM animals coming soon to Europe despite public distaste
by Mute Schimpf
Citizens and retailers have no appetite for genetically modified animals and crops, but the European Commission has sided with the biotech industry – argues campaigner
There is one thing genetically modified foods always bring to the table - controversy. And there is one thing European Union authorities and biotech companies seem intent on ignoring: the fact that nobody wants GM crops or animals on their plates. Last month, European food authorities took steps to open our markets to genetically modified animals, by publishing guidelines for their introduction. The guidelines, commissioned by the European Commission on behalf of the European Food Safety Authority give biotech companies the capability to seek permission to develop GM animals like salmon, pig, sheep and chicken.
This move by the commission comes even though there is no appetite among consumers for GM milk or meat, and no appetite from food processors or retailers to sell them - and for good reason. Nowhere in the world is any GM animal authorised for food production. Even in the United States, where there is less resistance to GM than in Europe, the planned introduction of the first GM animal - a salmon - caused widespread concern. Environmental, human health and economic problems have been identified with GM salmon.
It is feared that the production of GM salmon could, in fact, destroy the commercial salmon fishing industry and cause the extinction of the already threatened wild salmon population. Objections by congressmen, senators and civil society organisations have already delayed discussions on the approval of GM salmon by more than two years in America.
At the start of 2012, we contacted leading European supermarkets about their readiness to sell GM animals or products derived from them. The responses were clear. Europe's major retailers have no plans to sell any GM animal product. Aldi responded: "We demand in our contracts with all our suppliers to avoid GM materials or GM additives in the food production, this includes all steps of the production and all ingredients". Tesco stated: "We do not stock and have no plans to sell GM animals or derivatives of GM animals in our stores."
The commission seems oblivious to this market reality, as well as to the dangers of GM animals. The safety checks foreseen by EFSA and the commission have major gaps. The framework does not assess the economic impacts or the impacts for the breeding sector, or how cross-breeding with conventional animals should be prevented.
Early this year a broad coalition of environment and animal welfare groups, food producer and processor associations, family farmers and breeders, consumer cooperatives and organic food processor organisations wrote to the commission to ask that "the drafting of technical guidance stops until a broad assessment with all stakeholders has taken place to decide whether or not food products derived from GM animals are wanted within the EU".
The response from the office of European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli simply confirmed that work on technical guidance was continuing as planned. Not only is the commission failing to protect consumers, farmers, fisherman and food processors - by skipping a comprehensive assessment of the broader impacts of these GM products - it is rushing to introduce something which, quite simply, nobody bar the biotech industry wants.
Mute Schimpf is a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe
Like it or not, GM-foods are available on the shelves in a number of EU countries. People buy them and have done for years. So don't claim from your campaign group that you speak for everybody, you don't.
Valentine Dyall - England