Challenge for Europe

Biodiversity confiscated by GMO patents

GMO patents are holding seeds, animals, biodiversity and the right to food sovereignty hostage. They are becoming a massive weapon of confiscation held by a handful of transnational firms. This is happening in spite of their impacts on health and environment emphasized by current formal regulations. A GMO-free Europe is therefore a legitimate and major policy objective.

So-called “first generation” GMO pesticides (insecticide or herbicide resistant) are finally reaching the end of their patent-periods. The massive opposition of the population and the activism of the social movement have blocked the development of their crops in a majority of European countries. However, it is not obligatory to label products coming from animals that consumed these first generation GMOs: imports of GMOs for animal nutrition were able to invade the market while avoiding detection.

Today, firms have an interest in replacing first generation GMOs that are reaching the end of their patent with other products that they can reclaim new licensing rights. This is more advantageous than letting the patents fall into the public domain to the benefit of seed multipliers. Consequently, they are investing massively in other types of GMOs that will have to pass new environmental evaluations. This increased monitoring of environmental impacts of GMOs gives an advantage to firms that seek to progressively remove their primary GMOs from the market to make way for the following generation and it eliminates small businesses that are incapable of financing the required documentation.

At the same time, these firms support/maintain a lack of clarity on the health evaluation, whose strengthening jeopardizes the authorization of GMO food imports destined for animal foods.

Hidden GMOs: uncontrolled biotechnologies.

The European directive 2001/18 gives a clear definition of a GMO: “an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” Following this definition, the methods where mutation induced by radiation or chemical stress and cellular fusion are genetic manipulation biotechnologies that produced GMOs, eg. Transgenesis. And yet, they are all excluded from the range of application of the directive according to its Annex I.

At the moment, the European Commission for the environment directs a working group responsible for revising this definition – in a very confidential manner for the moment. In fact, current research on epigenetics shows in a unanimous way that these techniques provoke genetic rearrangements responsible for unintentional effects to the extent that transgenesis is no longer seen. These unintentional effects have never been evaluated. And yet, the few independent studies on transgenesis identified the unintentional effects as the principal cause of recorded damage to health or environment.

Still, today numerous varieties of wheat, barley, vegetables, etc. are currently marketed after mutagenesis or cellular fusion. Pionner and BASF marketed mutated sunflower that is resistant to their herbicides in several European countries and are preparing rape seed of the same nature. Even when these seeds generate the same risks as GMOs (the spread of re-growth or resistant wild grasses; the eventual health risks; and the patenting of genes whose perverse effect is the appropriation of a living, natural resource) they are marketed without evaluation and without informing consumers.

The new terminators: a tool to secure patents

The European research program TRANSCONTAINER is developing the “biological containment” of GMOs by excising modified genes before pollination, modifying chloroplasts which are not transmitted by the pollen, or biologically sterilizing seeds. To by-pass the current moratorium on Terminator seeds, the sterilization of these seeds is not total: they can germinate with the application of patented chemical products. These new “safe” or “eco-compatible” GMOs are in fact new, hidden “Terminators,” designed to safeguard the patents that protect them.

Proposals

Make labeling of products that come from animals that have consumed GMOs mandatory, and make it possible to label products which come from animals which have not consumed them.

Oblige seed companies to provided detailed information on the breeding methods used at the time of marketing of seeds and make labeling mandatory for products coming from modified seeds by any kind of genetic engineering techniques

Extend the application of rules concerning the authorization, dissemination, and labeling of GMOs to all “organisms, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination,” without exceptions for mutated plants, cellular fusion, cisgenesis, nanotechnologies, and all other techniques of genetic engineering

Ban all forms of permanent or reversible biological sterilization of plants and their characteristics

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Comments

  1. A brief comment in the form of an admission of tangential relevance.

    I clicked on the link to the European parliament and it suggested to me that, as advocated here, product labelling is indeed being advanced as a fix not just for GMOs, but pesticides, too.

    The admission is about something I learned only last week about the tiny label on tuna cans that tells you it is “Dolphin Friendly.” What this means is that the school of tuna fish was identified by some means other than searching for pods of dolphins feeding on them – not that no dolphins were harmed in the making of your tuna sandiwch.

    The relevant point is obvious but worth stating: simply that consumer labelling is only useful insofar as the consumer is aware of what the label means. The tuna label is very common and had me fooled for nigh on since I began buying that delicious fish.

    I am forced to wonder how the amount of information the consumer needs to know about the production processes contributing to their fruits and legumes might be more pragmatically branded in this instance. GM-Okay?

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