Benny Haerlin



Benedikt Haerlin is the Director of the Foundation on Future Farming ( which supports pioneering, ecologically and socially sustainable agricultural projects. He is also the Director of Save Our Seeds ( which works to keep conventional and organic seeds free of genetically modified organisms. He organised the European Conference on GMO-free Regions, Biodiversity and Rural Development in January 2005. He is the former Director of the Greenpeace global GMO campaign.

TRANSCRIPT: (slightly edited for clarity)

Michael O'Callaghan

What's the picture with GMO-free zones in Europe?

Benny Haerlin

GMO-free zones are now mushrooming in all member states of the European Community. We have just had a meeting here in Berlin with 190 delegates from 28 countries, even non-EU countries. Weve heard reports from Hungary, Italy, France, Greece, the UK, Germany and many more countries whose regions now realize that GMOs might be coming their way – they may be in their back yard, in their gardens and in their fields – and thess regions are organizing to keep them out.

What threat do GMOs pose to the seed supply?

One of the most vulnerable areas in agriculture at the moment is seed production. Obviously, there can be no minimum threshold for seeds being contaminated with GMOs. Maize and – even worse – rapeseed, are out-crossing over large distances. So seed production must be protected. We also need a European regulation which clearly establishes what is already in European law but not yet implemented in seed legislation, that seeds which contain GMOs must be labeled as such at the practical detection level.

Do you think the European Commission will take action to implement the Assembly of European Regions / Friends of the Earth campaign to strenghthen legislation for GMO-free zones to be more clearly defined and easy to set up?

The present legislation (which the European Commission has already implemented, and which the Member States are about to implement) only allows for GMO-free regions under very limited and still not very clear conditions. We believe a call to allow for the regions to determine their future, and to determine whether they want to grow GMO crops or not, will be on the agenda in Brussels this year, in 2005. Also, the new Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs. Fischer Boel (from Denmark), has announced that she thinks there need to be European-wide minimum standards for "co-existence" [of conventional and organic farming with GMO crops] and that the latter should include a precise definition of how regions can keep GMOs out of their territory if they wish to do so. This is the best - and probably the only way - for them to guarantee "co-existence".

Ireland is geographically isolated, surrounded by sea, and upstream from the wind that blows across Europe, since 80% of the time our wind blows in off the Atlantic. In addition, we probably have the lowest previous GM contamination exposure in Europe, as there have been very few field trials in our country. Do you think EU governments might support a case for Ireland to be set aside as a biosafety reserve for the security of the member states?

I think Ireland's particuiar situation – as an island that is better protected from unwanted gene transfer by wind-borne pollen than most European areas, and because your winds usually blow in from the West – makes it a perfect place to preserve the seeds heritage and the diversity of presently available commercial seeds, by staying GMO-free. The economic opportunities for Ireland are obviously in the non-GM sector.

This presents a big opportunity, especially for international seed companies but also smaller and medium sized seed companies throughout the European Union. If Ireland were in a position to guarantee these companies that there is no threat of GMO pollution in your country, this would provide them with a great opportunity to use Ireland as a safe place for their seed reproduction. This would not only be an economic benefit, but could also be an advantage in terms of the further development of seeds and innovations and new jobs in research and development.

The simple message from very many regions all across Europe is: please keep Ireland GMO-free!

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