GM Soy to Be Banned
Vesna Peric Zimonjic
Inter Press Service, December 19 2006
BELGRADE, Dec. 19 (IPS) - Environmentalists in Romania have secured a victory in getting genetically modified (GM) soy finally banned.
"Romania was the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) soy in Europe after it began growing it without any control a decade ago," Greenpeace coordinator Gabriel Paun told IPS on phone from Bucharest. "This is to be stopped by January, which is another victory for us."
Romania, together with neighbouring Bulgaria, is joining the European Union (EU) Jan. 1. It had therefore to comply with strict regulation dealing with GM organisms, unwelcome by most environmentally conscious nations.
GM crops crept into the country a decade ago, bringing at least 130,000 hectares under modified soybean cultivation. Environmentalists rank Romania 11th among producers of GM crops.
Unrestrained production of GM crops has endangered prospects of agriculture exports. Such agricultural produce, often described as "contaminated", cannot reach strictly regulated markets.
"This victory (on ban on GM soy planting) represents a great challenge for us," Paun said. "We plan to broaden the action to other EU countries such as Austria, Greece and Poland."
Cultivation of GM soy in Romania included 25,000 hectares in the area of the Danube Delta, one of the largest wetlands on the planet. This area is home to at least 1,689 plant species and 3,448 species of fauna, in a unique "natural museum" of biodiversity.
GM crops, or "genetically modified organisms (GMOs)" as many experts like to call them, went into mass cultivation about ten years ago. They were at first regarded as a salvation to feed the poor. Due to laboratory-implanted characteristics at the genetic level, they gave unexpectedly high yields, were immune to the usual plant diseases, and needed little care in general.
What was little known at first was that GMOs tend to make land infertile, and cannot reproduce.
"It's unclear if GM crops are a danger by themselves, but they release certain substances that stimulate growth of undesired micro-organisms," expert on GM crops Mirjana Nikolic told IPS. "Due to the presence of those micro-organisms, the land can become infertile after one season in some cases."
Nikolic took part in a large operation two years ago to discover fields in Serbia where smuggled GM soybeans had been planted.
The operation involved police action and led to the burning down of plants on 1,000 hectares in the northern province Vojvodina. It was established then that the GM seeds had been smuggled from neighbouring Romania.
Romanian environmentalists say the most popular GM crops in the region for some time have been soybeans and maize, and also genetically modified plum trees. In August this year Greenpeace uncovered illegal experiments in plantation of such plum trees at a research and development centre in Bistri 355;a in Romania.
"These new findings once more revealed that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are totally out of control in Romania and that the research stations in Romania are playing grounds for the industry," Paun said.
The plantations were destroyed, and no licence for further work was approved to project leaders, he said.
GM plum trees pose a serious risk to human health because they contain a gene that is resistant to antibiotics.
Romania began some action against GM soy in February this year. It ordered cuts in the production of GM herbicide resistant soybeans, of which the EU does not approve, and introduced a monitoring and control system for GM crops.
But many farmers prefer genetically engineered crops, because they mean no more fighting with weeds or bugs. Cultivation of resistant crops eases the job of combating pests of all kinds.
A black market in GM seeds was flourishing in Romania for years "but things are to be improved now," Paun said.
Environmentalist Dragos Dima recently told Romanian media that it will take many years to "put the agricultural house in order." Dima said "the country will have to decontaminate itself from unapproved GM varieties and put in place working systems on the release of GM organisms and on food labelling."
Romania, he said, may become a test case "whether GM crop-plant decontamination is possible at all."
The complete ban now on production of GM crops is a victory for campaigners. This decision follows the victory of Romanian environmentalists, local Greenpeace among them, in securing suspension of construction of the controversial Road 66a earlier this month. The road would gravely endanger the untouched nature reserves of Retezat and Domogled parks. (END/2006)