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AS WESTERN EUROPE TURNS AGAINST GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS, SO THE TRANSNATIONAL 'LIFE SCIENCES' COMPANIES ARE TURNING THEIR ATTENTION TO THE MORE VULNERABLE EAST OF THE CONTINENT, SAYS IZA KRUSZEWSKA.
THE RECENT SCANDAL of GM-contaminated rape seed, imported to Western Europe from Canada by the seed company Advanta, highlighted the problem of cross-pollination of conventional plants by their GM relatives. It also threw up the difficulties of finding regions which are still GM-free. In response, Advanta claimed to have moved seed production to countries like New Zealand where no GM production takes place. Meanwhile, Pioneer Hi-Bred, which specialises in maize seed, has moved European maize seed production to Romania, Hungary and Austria.
Romania is a strange choice. Since 1997, US seed companies have tested and registered seven varieties of GM crops in the country, and in 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture approved the commercial growing of GM soybeans and large-scale trials of potatoes, maize and sunflower seeds, despite the absence of any law on GM seeds. Last year Romania cultivated at least 100,000 hectares of GM crops.
Yet Romania is not the only country in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) that is growing GM crops. The uncertainty surrounding what is actually going on in CEE and the Newly Independent States (NIS) lies in the absence of any public right to information and, in many cases, poor government oversight.
EASTERN EUROPE -- A BRIEF BACKGROUND
Science and technology have a long history in this region. Indeed the grandfather of genetics is Mendel, a monk who lived in Brno, now in the Czech Republic. Already in the 1980s, scientists in many of these countries were undertaking experiments in agri-biotechnology, and by the early 1990s were releasing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment without any regulatory controls. Since 1991, Bulgarian scientists from the Institute of Genetic Engineering in Kostinbrod have been releasing GM tobacco plants during field trials. In 1996, in Poland, Greenpeace discovered GM carp with human growth hormone genes (to make them grow faster) that had been swimming in the ponds of a government institute since at least 1994! At this time, most of the biotech research was still domestically driven and funded by the public purse.
Now, in the face of strong opposition to GM foods in Western Europe and increasingly elsewhere, the transnational 'life sciences' companies, such as Monsanto and Pioneer, are choosing Eastern Europe and the NIS as a playground for …