genetic engineering in Eastern Europe

Main Focus: Promotion of the Movement against Genetic Engineering in Eastern Europe

In 2002, the Grassroots Foundation redirected its promotional emphasis toward “Genetic Engineering”. Its aim is the establishment and financial support of civil resistance against the practically unbridled introduction of genetic manipulation in agriculture.

Worldwide there are approximately 130 million hectares (2009) sown with genetically altered crops for commercial use. Although it is true that agro-GM, an ecologically as well as socially and economically high-risk technology, has not been widely accepted in all parts of the world. Half of the areas under cultivation are located in the US (54 percent), and a fifth in Argentina (18 percent). Another 25 percent are spread across Canada, Brazil, India and China (Source: ISAAA 2006). Owing to the resistance of its population and relatively strict laws governing genetic engineering, the European Union, one of the most important world markets, is predominantly GM-free.

Why Promotion in Eastern Europe?

Based upon the above, it seems natural for genetic engineering companies to extend their economical activities into Eastern Europe. Following the political opening of the East, the influence of western companies has steadily been increasing. It is not only the poor marketing expectations for EU markets for GM produce, but local political, scientific and civil conditions in these countries that make them economically significant alternatives. The introduction of genetic engineering as perceived by multinational corporations is aided by the following factors:

  • These countries often have relatively poorly developed democracies, which spurn citizens’ rights of information or where participation in the process of political decision making is sporadic or only selectively given.
  • Many of these countries do not have legislation in place regulating use of genetic engineering.
  • If this legislation does exist, it tends to be too weak; there is a definite dearth of institutional, personnel and technical opportunities for enforcement. Frequently labs are too poorly equipped to be able to determine GMOs in seeds or food items.
  • It is common practice in many countries to staff scientific boards charged with passing on field trials with the same scientists who file the respective applications. Thus, no effective scrutiny and control of field trials can be expected.
  • There is practically no conscious appreciation of the risks of genetic engineering in these countries, neither among consumers and the media nor among the rural population. Genetic engineering is no publicly disputed „issue“.

GM companies have exploited this climate of inadequate transparency and control.

Initially, aid shipments of unmarked GM foods ended up on food store shelves. This applies to Russia and the newly independent states (CIS) as well as the Balkan region. Disguised as humanitarian aid, the United States has been distributing genetically modified food to countries in the east, without informing the population and their respective governments.