EU-wide application to grow Bayer´s GMO oilseed rape rejected on environmental grounds

Brussels, Monday, 2 February 2004: Environmental groups today welcomed the decision of the Belgian Government to reject an application to grow genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape. The EU-wide application from Bayer CropScience was rejected after research showed that it would damage the environment.

Belgian experts concluded that growing this GM oilseed rape would have negative impacts on biodiversity that could not be brought under control, and that guidelines for farmers to prevent contamination of non-GM crops are unworkable and difficult to monitor. Their advice followed the largest GM field scale trials to date (in the UK), which concluded that growing GM oilseed rape would be worse for wildlife than growing the conventional crop (1). Other UK studies have also shown that insects can carry the pollen of oilseed rape over many kilometres (2). Such research underlines how immensely difficult, if not impossible, it would be to contain the cultivation of GM oilseed rape and protect non-genetically engineered farming.

German-based Bayer CropScience had applied through Belgium for a Europe-wide licence to grow the GM oilseed rape. The Belgian Government could only have forwarded it to other member states for a joint decision if it had met European laws to protect the environment. Two other applications for a similar crop, also by Bayer, are being processed by Germany. Karen Simal, GMO campaigner for Greenpeace Belgium said "This is a slap in the face of the biotech industry and a victory for the environment. The Belgian Government has acknowledged that growing GM oilseed rape is harmful to the environment. Governments should refuse to even examine other applications for GM crop cultivation, because it would harm our environment, make organic and non-GM farming impossible, and because we still lack EU rules making the GMO industry liable for the damages."

While welcoming the Belgian government's refusal to allow cultivation, both environmental organisations deplore the fact that, at the same time, the Belgian Government approved the crop for import and processing in Europe. This part of the application will now be forwarded to other EU member states.

Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "GM oilseed rape will harm the environment and contaminate non-GM agriculture, whether it is grown in the EU or elsewhere in the world. It is inconsistent to ban the cultivation yet allow it for import. Protecting the environment by rejecting GMOs should be the first responsibility of every Government." Karen Simal continued: "Consumers are to some extent protected from GMOs as many food manufacturers refuse to allow GMOs in their products, but allowing such ingredients on the market places an extra burden on them. Although most consumers have made it clear they don't want GMOs in their food, they will need to keep on actively rejecting such products."

The largest trials to date of oilseed rape were recently conducted in the UK and concluded that growing GM oilseed rape would be worse for the environment. Independent scientists found that bees and butterflies were less abundant in the GM crops than in non-GM crops due to a lack of weeds and wild plants. There were also substantially less weed seeds present in the GM crops. Weed seeds are an important source of food for small mammals and birds, particularly during winter.

source: Katharine Mill, Greenpeace European Unit Media Officer