From: Amana Ferro 

by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE (IPS) - Environmentalists in Romania have secured a victory in getting 
genetically modified (GM) soy finally banned. 

"Romania was the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) soy in Europe 
after it began growing it without any control a decade ago," Greenpeace 
coordinator Gabriel Paun told IPS on phone from Bucharest. "This is to be 
stopped by January, which is another victory for us." Romania, together with 
neighbouring Bulgaria, is joining the European Union (EU) Jan. 1. It had 
therefore to comply with strict regulation dealing with GM organisms, unwelcome 
by most environmentally conscious nations. 

GM crops crept into the country a decade ago, bringing at least 130,000 
hectares under modified soybean cultivation. Environmentalists rank Romania 
11th among producers of GM crops. Unrestrained production of GM crops has 
endangered prospects of agriculture exports. Such agricultural produce, often 
described as "contaminated", cannot reach strictly regulated markets. "This 
victory (on ban on GM soy planting) represents a great challenge for us," Paun 
said. "We plan to broaden the action to other EU countries such as Austria, 
Greece and Poland." 

Cultivation of GM soy in Romania included 25,000 hectares in the area of the 
Danube Delta, one of the largest wetlands on the planet. This area is home to 
at least 1,689 plant species and 3,448 species of fauna, in a unique "natural 
museum" of biodiversity. GM crops, or "genetically modified organisms (GMOs)" 
as many experts like to call them, went into mass cultivation about ten years 
ago. They were at first regarded as a salvation to feed the poor. Due to 
laboratory-implanted characteristics at the genetic level, they gave 
unexpectedly high yields, were immune to the usual plant diseases, and needed 
little care in general. 

What was little known at first was that GMOs tend to make land infertile, and 
cannot reproduce. 

"It's unclear if GM crops are a danger by themselves, but they release certain 
substances that stimulate growth of undesired micro-organisms," expert on GM 
crops Mirjana Nikolic told IPS. "Due to the presence of those micro-organisms, 
the land can become infertile after one season in some cases." Nikolic took 
part in a large operation two years ago to discover fields in Serbia where 
smuggled GM soybeans had been planted. The operation involved police action and 
led to the burning down of plants on 1,000 hectares in the northern province 
Vojvodina. It was established then that the GM seeds had been smuggled from 
neighbouring Romania. 

Romanian environmentalists say the most popular GM crops in the region for some 
time have been soybeans and maize, and also genetically modified plum trees. In 
August this year Greenpeace uncovered illegal experiments in plantation of such 
plum trees at a research and development centre in Bistrita in Romania. "These 
new findings once more revealed that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are 
totally out of control in Romania and that the research stations in Romania are 
playing grounds for the industry," Paun said. 

The plantations were destroyed, and no licence for further work was approved to 
project leaders, he said. GM plum trees pose a serious risk to human health 
because they contain a gene that is resistant to antibiotics. Romania began 
some action against GM soy in February this year. It ordered cuts in the 
production of GM herbicide resistant soybeans, of which the EU does not 
approve, and introduced a monitoring and control system for GM crops. But many 
farmers prefer genetically engineered crops, because they mean no more fighting 
with weeds or bugs. Cultivation of resistant crops eases the job of combating 
pests of all kinds. 

A black market in GM seeds was flourishing in Romania for years "but things are 
to be improved now," Paun said. 

Environmentalist Dragos Dima recently told Romanian media that it will take 
many years to "put the agricultural house in order." Dima said "the country 
will have to decontaminate itself from unapproved GM varieties and put in place 
working systems on the release of GM organisms and on food labelling." Romania, 
he said, may become a test case "whether GM crop-plant decontamination is 
possible at all." 

The complete ban now on production of GM crops is a victory for campaigners. 
This decision follows the victory of Romanian environmentalists, local 
Greenpeace among them, in securing suspension of construction of the 
controversial Road 66a earlier this month. The road would gravely endanger the 
untouched nature reserves of Retezat and Domogled parks. 

"Let me know, that at least, she will try
Then she'll be a true love of mine"

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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