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GMOs in Honey Banned in Europe

(Beyond Pesticides, September 14, 2011) A ruling last week by the European Court of Justice states that honey produced though cross-pollination with a genetically modified (GM) crop must be authorized as a GM product before being sold. The ruling means that the European Union (EU) will have to ban imported honey containing traces of pollen from GM crops that have not been approved for entry. Honey exports from the United States, Canada, Argentina or Brazil, countries with no regulations on the subject, will now be virtually impossible.

In the ruling, which, in part, addressed the viability of GM pollen, delivered September 6, 2011, the Court observes, first, that the pollen in question may be classified as a GMO only if it is an ‘organism’ that is a ‘biological entity capable’ either of ‘replication’ or of ‘transferring genetic material.’ If the pollen in question has lost all specific and individual ability to reproduce, it should be determined whether that pollen is otherwise capable of ‘transferring genetic material.’ taking due account of the scientific data available and considering all forms of scientifically-established transfer of genetic material. The court concludes, “Honey and food supplements containing pollen derived from a GMO are foodstuffs produced from GMOs which cannot be marketed without prior authorization.” Further, “authorization for foodstuffs containing ingredients produced from GMOs applies irrespective of whether the pollen is introduced intentionally or adventitiously into the honey.”

Events leading up to this new ruling began in Germany in 2005 after a dispute arose between Karl Heinz Bablok, an amateur beekeeper, and a neighboring farm cultivating a number of plots of GM maize. Mr. Bablok brought legal proceedings against the farm before the German courts, in which four other amateur beekeepers joined. GM maize DNA and other GM proteins were detected in the maize pollen harvested by Mr. Bablok in beehives situated 500 meters from the plots of land under GM cultivation. Very small amounts of GM maize DNA were also detected in a number of samples of Mr Bablok’s honey. The German court requested the European Court of Justice to clarify issues surrounding GM pollen and the presence of GM material in honey. Read press release for ruling here.

Beyond Pesticides believes that whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crop, the GM approach to pest management is short-sighted and dangerous. There are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GM crops. GM contamination to non-GM and organic crops is a serious concern that has been played down by industry and regulatory officials. Several lawsuits in the past decade however have demonstrated that contamination is a real life phenomenon. GM crops present a unique risk to organic growers especially. Wind-pollinated and bee-pollinated crops, such as corn and alfalfa, have higher risks of cross-pollination between GM crops and unmodified varieties. For organic farmers, the costs to remain GM-free can be burdensome. Most organic farmers in Spain have given up growing maize because of the high contamination risks and the fact that contamination with GMO maize has already happened. Many farmers face enormous costs as they have to import GMO-free and organic maize from abroad to feed their animals according to the organic rules and market demand. GM crops are already known to contaminate conventional non-GM and organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment by increasing resistant insects and weeds, contaminating water and affecting pollinators and other non-target organisms. Recently, a study by University of Notre Dame researchers found that streams throughout the American Midwest are contaminated with GM materials from corn crop byproducts, even six months after harvest. The long-term health effects of consuming GM food are still unknown.

Currently, no provision exists to effectively protect organic farms from contamination, although EPA has required “refuges” or non-GM planted barriers around sites planted with GM crops to help mitigate contamination risks. Read “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market” for more on GM regulation. However, a 2009 study shows that one out of every four farmers who plants GM corn is failing to comply with at least one important insect-resistance management requirement. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is responsible for developing USDA standards that govern the production of organic honey and honey-related products. Because the biology and behavior of honey bees is so markedly different from other types of organic livestock, and because they fly and forage a wide area, specific standards are required to ensure consistency among organic certifiers and to ensure that organic honey meets consumers’ expectations. Among other practices, the NOSB proposed standard requires that organic bee keepers establish a 1.8 mile (3km) radius organically managed “forage zone.” For property within the zone that is not managed by the beekeeper, an affidavit stating that prohibited pesticides have not been used for three years is required. GMOs are not permitted under organic standards.

Pollinators like honey bees face unique hazards from pesticides and GM crops that they pollinate. Contaminated pollen is taken back to the hive where the entire colony can be exposed to various quantities of pesticide residues and GM material, where irrevocable damage is done to hives. The recent losses of thousands of hives across the country and in Europe, termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), demonstrate the importance of a precautionary approach when it comes to pesticides and GMOs. Protecting pollinators is just one of the many reasons to eat organic food. Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience database shows that nearly all conventional crops may be treated with pesticides known to kill bees and other wildlife. View this information by crop at www.EatingWithAConscience.org.

Take Action: Avoid GM contaminated honey by buying your honey from an organic honey producer.

Source: CTA Brussels Office


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