By: Natasha Longo,
The Italians are on to something big that could cause a ripple effect throughout the EU. Three Italian ministries have signed a decree banning the cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn, citing environmental concerns, the agriculture ministry said last week.
Earlier this year, Poland had become the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. Seven other EU member states have already imposed bans on the cultivation of GM crops approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as safe: Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria. Now Italy has joined the ranks.
Nation ministries continue to express concerns that GM crops may cross-pollinate with non-GM crops and Monsanto’s MON810 maize pollen may find its way into honey. There exists no scientific assessments confirming that GM crops are safe for the environment and people.
The decree, which still needs to be published in the official gazette to become binding, targets Monsanto’s MON810 maize, one of two genetically modified organisms (GMO) allowed in Europe and the only one currently grown commercially.
The ban was also signed off by the health and environment ministries, with the agriculture ministry citing the crop’s “negative impact on biodiversity”.
“Our agriculture is based on biodiversity, on quality, and those we must continue to aim for, without games that even from an economic point of view would not make us competitive,” the ministry said.
The ministry said it had already notified the European Commission and other states in the European Union of the move.
“The Commission will look into the Italian safeguard measure in more detail, and we have already asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess the scientific basis for the decision,” said Frederic Vincent, the Commission’s health spokesman. EFSA is the EU’s food safety watchdog.
While GMO cultivation approvals are agreed jointly at the EU level, individual governments can introduce safeguards if they believe that cultivation could present a health or environmental risk. Those moves, however, are always verified by the Commission.
France put in place a similar temporary ban on GMO crops last year.
It was just two years ago that French police stood helpless as sixty people, locked inside an open-air field of genetically modified grapevines, uprooted all the plants. In Spain, dozens of people have destroyed GMO fields. In an anonymous press release that year, they wrote, “This kind of direct action is the best way to respond to the fait accompli policy through which the Generalitat, the State and the biotech multinationals have been unilaterally imposing genetically modified organisms.”
Europe is quickly becoming the most progressive continent in the world to oppose GM foods. France, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Latvia and Albania have all declared many regions to be GMO-free. France made an important step in the no-GMO movement by specifically defining exactly what “GMO-free” means when it comes to food labeling. Spain and Portugal are slowing advancing but they have a long way to go before declaring most of their regions GMO-free. Britain officially supports GM crops and has trials of GMOs like potatoes planted. Austria, Greece and Poland are now completely GMO-free zones thanks to public and government support.
According to official data from last year, there was no GMO cultivation in Italy, a country fiercely protective of its agriculture, although some pro-biotech farmers have planted individual crops in recent months despite the widespread opposition.
Nearly 80 percent of Italians are in support of a ban, according to Italy’s biggest farmers group Coldiretti, citing the results of a recent survey.
“The protection of Italian distinctiveness must be a policy priority since it determines the existence of ‘Made in Italy’, which is our engine, our future, our leverage to return to growth in the food industry,” Coldiretti’s president, Sergio Marini, said in a statement.
The Italian ban will be valid for a period of up to 18 months, the ministry added.
Five EU member states grew MON810 maize on 129,000 hectares in 2012, data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications showed.