Polish farmers will have the right to block genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMOs, as Brussels has agreed to a proposal put forth by the Polish government after 8 years of conflict on the issue. One of Poland’s toughest negotiation points with the European Commission, before the 2007 elections, Civic Platform promised to make Poland a GMO-free zone, a promise supported by 66 percent of the population at the time.
However, the Polish government is not allowed to singularly ban GMOs from its territory without inciting reaction from the European Commission. European Union agricultural policy says that plants previously permissible on the single market (such as MON810 corn from the American concern Monsanto) can be grown on the terrain of the entire EU.
As such, the Polish government has been working to ban genetically modified foods from the bottom up by encouraging farmers to create ‘goodwill declarations’ that maintain that their fields will remain free of GMOs.
“A zone free from the growing of genetically modified plants creates an area of neighbouring parcels. Such a zone will create a group of farmers who, at their own iniciative [ban GMOs],” states the government’s proposal.
If a particular community of farmers does not initiate such a declaration, the Polish government has set up a strict network of rules for them to fulfill before they can begin to grow GMOs. First, the farmer would have to register the GMO crop with the local government to inform neighbours who have the right to reject a GMO crop in their vicinity. Such rejection would preclude the farmer from acquiring a license to grow GMO crops. Secondly, the farmer will be required to cultivate the crop on an isolated terrain and provide five years of records documenting the crop or face a 20,000 zloty fine (about 4,500 euro).
Additionally, the government’s regulation requires that after any GMO foods have been processed in a factory, storehouse or plant, all machinery that came into contact with the organisms will have to be thoroughly cleaned.
The government’s regulation also reserves the right for the Ministry of Agriculture to withdraw a farmer’s permit to cultivate GMOs if new information is released regarding negative health or environmental effects.
Not registering one’s crop of GMO plants would result in a prison sentence of up to three years as well as a 3,000 zloty fine (about 680 zloty). “This regulation, even if it does not guarantee a 100 percent blockade of GMO cultivation in Poland, does lead to the result that Poland will, as a country, be a GMO-free zone,” Environmental Minister Maciej Nowicki told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
It was not easy to convince the European Commission to accept the regulation and there were many changes made in order to make sure that it is in accordance with European law.
The agreement underwritten by farmers must guarantee the possibility to back out of the GMO ban agreement and begin cultivating GMO crops. All farmers interested in cultivating GMOs must be notified of the fact that there are initiatives to create GMO-free zones in their region,” stated Carine Jeukenne from the press bureau of EU Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas. “The most important is that the EC affirms that the regulation is in agreement with European law, because, the current regulation from 2001 was not and Poland faced punishment from the European Tribunal,” maintains Nowicki. “Up until the last minute, the regulation contained a clause that local governments have the right to declare GMO-free zones, but the Commission told us that it is absolutely illegal to pass such a regulation.”
The Polish regulation not only addresses the issue of growing GMOs but also research on and trade of genetically modified organisms.
Gazeta Wyborcza reports that the regulation was accepted by the European Commission on Tuesday. The Polish Ministry of the Environment plans to submit the regulation to the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, after 23 June. If passed, it is expected to be signed into law by the end of the year.
Poland is not the only European country facing issues surrounding genetically modified foods. Recently, several other countries, including Germany, Austria, France and Hungary, have faced problems with the EC regarding regulations on GMO cultivation.