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GMO debates rage unabated in Russia

There have been reports a decree on GMO organisms and products was adopted back in September

MOSCOW, December 18. /ITAR-TASS/. GMO debate has flared up with renewed force in Russia on the news of a governmental decree about GMO registration, which many have interpreted as the green light for massive GMO production. Non-governmental organizations opposing GMO as dangerous for health are filing a law suit against the government. They believe Russia had better set about producing eco-friendly food.

There have been reports the mentioned decree on GMO organisms and products was adopted back in September. GMO registration is now the duty of several authorities: the Health Ministry will deal with those used for producing drugs, the healthcare authority Roszdravnadzor will supervise medical products, the food security watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, foods, and the agricultural authority, fodders.

Many interpreted the document as permission to sow genetically modified cereals. Among them is Oleg Sukhanov, market research manager at Bunge company. According to the Vedomosti daily he made an unambiguous statement to this effect at an agricultural conference.

Currently, Russia allows GMO crops to be grown only in test areas. Only some breeds of corn, potato, soya, rice and sugarbeet can be imported (a total of 22 strains). Foods with GMO components are on sale in Russia, but they have to bear a special mark.

The attitude to GMO products is one of the greatest controversies lingering for already about 20 years. In 1996, the U.S. company Monsanto issued the first-ever genetically modified samples. About forty kinds of GM agricultural products are now being grown on a massive scale worldwide, and their number is yet increasing. According to Greenpeace, over a third of all foods worldwide contain various GM organisms or ingredients.

However, 174 GMO-free regions have been set up in the European Union, including whole countries like Austria, Greece, Poland and Switzerland. Thousands of farmers in other European countries proclaimed GMO technologies were absolutely unacceptable.

In Russia, there are no taboos on GMO, though there are 14 zones that declared themselves ‘free of GMO’, among them Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Belgorod region. In practice, however, this only means that, for instance, the Moscow government demands that GMO sellers inform the buyers of GMO content — as a rule, such products have a special mark on them.

So far, genetically modified products have not been scientifically proven harmful. Even Rospotrebnadzor famous for its strict rules does not oppose GMO use.

Meanwhile, last August Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to not only develop amendments intended to toughen control over GMO turnover, but also consider an import ban on GMO products.

“The Ministry remains conservative about GMO,” echoes Agricultural Minister Nikolai Fyodorov. “Large-scale production is to be prevented,” he said last Monday. Such plants and livestock products can only be permitted for retail trade following “proper, long and reliable research into possible consequences of GMO use”, he added.

“The government’s actions indicate the lack of a common GMO position,” the director of the National Association of Genetic Security, Yelena Sharoykina, is quoted as saying by the online “Last spring non-governmental organizations released an open letter demanding Russia to be declared a GMO-free country. The petition gathered over three thousand signatures.”

According to Sharoykina, the group comprised of non-commercial organizations’ proxies and experts in biological and food security has lodged an application wih the Supreme Court of Russia challenging the governmental decree allegedly permitting GMO production in Russia. They argue this decree violated Russian citizens’ constitutional rights, including that to a favorable environment and information and food security.

The director-general of the Institute for Agricultural Market Conditions (IKAR), Dmitry Rylko, believes the decree has been misinterpreted, for it applies to scientific testing of transgenic products only. “There is a substantial difference between authorizing GMO production and testing it with further mandatory registration of the final product,” he explained.

“In fact, the document says nothing about permission to sow GMO cereals. It’s about the legalization of this process,” the president of the Russian Grain Union, Arkady Zlochevsky is quoted by the Trud daily as saying. “Now much is sown illegally and without any permissions. Many fodders used on the farms are genetically modified. But such fodders are mainly produced in the Kaliningrad Region of Brazilian soya beans.”

“Now we just have a transparent and comprehensible mechanism that, on the one hand, allows the use of such seeds, and, on the other hand control the process. But this by no means imply home-made genetically modified products will soon flood the markets,” he said in conclusion.


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TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors