Warning given over GM products

  • 2001-08-23
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Environmentalists in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark are launching into action against genetically modified foods in the largest cities of these four countries from Aug. 13 to 26. The idea is part of a program implemented by the international environmental protection organization Friends of the Earth-Europe, aiming to inform Europeans about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and food products, and their impact on human health and the environment.

A group of 20 volunteers from the four countries, together with a two-meter-high plush-bee, the symbol of genetic pollution, have been handing out informative leaflets to residents in the Baltic states and will hold discussions in streets and squares.

The movement kicked off in front of the Lithuanian government building in Vilnius on Aug. 13. The giant bee is to travel through Kaunas and Klaipeda in Lithuania, Kuldiga, Riga, Jurmala and Cesis in Latvia, and Parnu, Tartu and Tallinn in Estonia. It will reach Copenhagen on Aug. 25.

Environmentalists are not only handing out leaflets. "There was a concert in Jurmala to attract the attention of young people," Ieva Zalite, an activist with the Latvian Green Liberty organization, informed The Baltic Times.

The movement is called the Bee Tour. No law can stop bees from flying and causing cross-pollination of related plant species, the organizers maintain, whether they are genetically engineered or not. So the bee is a good symbol of genetic pollution.

"GMOs could be dangerous to human health and the environment. The most common genetically engineered crops are soy, corn and rape.

The most important concern is the import of these products from the United States, Canada and Argentina, where laws on GMOs are much more liberal than in Europe," Jurgita Maciunaite, an activist with the Vilnius Environmentalists' Society, told The Baltic Times.

According to her, not enough research has been conducted into genetically modified plants. Yet they are already used for food; thousands of hectares of genetically modified soy, rape, corn and other crops are grown in the U.S. and Canada and exported to Europe.

The European Union has a very strict system on GMO use. "As in all EU countries, Denmark has a law for labeling genetically modified food," Sofie Andersen, an activist with the Friends of the Earth-Denmark, told The Baltic Times. "There has been some labeled GM food on shop shelves in Denmark and consumers have refused to buy it. So at the moment there is no labeling of genetically modified food in Denmark."

In Latvia and Estonia, food containing genetically modified products has to be labeled according to local laws. Lithuania passed similar laws in June which will come into effect in Jan. 2003.

Products without proper labeling are considered illegal in Estonia and Latvia. However, Latvia and Estonia have not done any testing to ensure that proper labeling is taking place, say the organizers of the Bee Tour.

"The situation is that we have quite good GMO laws, which set the rules on how a company that wants to import genetically modified foods or crops should apply for permission, and how it will be processed," Peep Mardiste, director of the Friends of the Earth-Estonia, told The Baltic Times.

"The law also states that all genetically modified food products have to have special labels explaining this," he continued. "But nobody has ever seen such labels in the shops, and it's very probable that we still have genetically modified ingredients in food products, especially those coming from the U.S. So control mechanisms should be stronger. Public awareness about GMOs is very low, which is why we're doing the Bee Tour in the Baltics."

Genetically modified food is not produced in the Baltic states. There were some field tests of genetically modified sugar beets and fodder beets in Lithuania between 1989 and 2000, but further tests were canceled. There have been no such tests in Latvia and Estonia.