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News 14 Jan 13

Serbia to Scrap Genetically Modified Food Ban

To join the World Trade Organisation and move towards the European Union, Serbia will have to allow the production and import of GMOs.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian is set to discussi the country’s law on genetically modified organisms, GMOs.

The Serbian parliament is set to start discussing the country’s law on genetically modified organisms, GMOs, in the second quarter of 2013, according to the government’s action plan for the implementation of European Commission recommendations.

In order to join the EU and the World Trade Organisation, WTO, Serbia will have to amend the law to allow the sale of GMOs, but also to introduce strict procedures for issuing licences for the import of any GMO product.

While the EU has strict rules on food safety, the WTO insists that there should be no permanent import ban on any product, unless it’s proven that it is dangerous.

Serbia applied for WTO membership in 2004. Negotiations with the EU were launched in 2005 and Belgrade officially submitted its application to become a candidate for membership four years later.

According to the current Serbian law regulating GMOs, adopted in 2009, the production, use and sale of such products is strictly prohibited.

However, products are permitted to contain up to 0.9 per cent of GMO content, as this is considered to be unintentional contamination.

The EU allows the use and sale of around 50 GMO products, although only two have been cleared for production on EU territory – one type of potato and a type of corn.

GMOs

Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are organisms with modified DNA and the GM food derived from GMOs.  The first modified plant was a tomato which went on sale in 1994.

Since then the production of GM food has increased drastically and tomatoes, corn, soya beans, canola and cotton seed oil are the most common GMOs on the market.

The DNA of foodstuffs has been modified in various ways, including modifications to speed up growth or make products resistant to pathogens.

There are several controversies over GM food. One of the biggest concerns was whether it is safe, but alongside safety issues there are issues about how GMO products should be labelled, what effect GM crops have on the environment and whether GMO producers have an unfair advantage over other producers because their food is cheaper.

 

The EU also has one of the strictest licensing systems for GMOs used for human consumption and the products that contain more than 0.9 per cent of a GMO must be clearly marked.

According to WTO rules, member states must not have any non-tariff trade restrictions, including bans on imports, unless they are imposed to protect human health, animals and plants.

In order to ban a product, a WTO member state must prove that the product is dangerous and that the measures taken against it are justified and appropriate to the risk.

WTO rules do allow the introduction of temporary bans on some products, if scientific evidence relevant to the risk assessment of the product is not available. However, the country is obliged to provide evidence for the risk assessment and review the limitation orders within a reasonable period.

A permanent ban on GMO products is not possible, however, unless the harmful effects of a GMO are scientifically proven.

Bojana Todorovic from the Serbian trade ministry explained that WTO member states have different policies toward GMOs, but that none of the 157 member states have instituted a general ban.

“It is important to pass legislation that does not explicitly introduce a foreign trade ban, but we can introduce restrictive control regimes that we believe to be necessary,” Todorovic told news agency Tanjug.

She explained that WTO rules do not affect Serbia’s policy on the cultivation and production of GMOs.

“We can still have a ban on producing GMOs and this policy was not even discussed with the EU and the WTO,” Todorovic said.

Serbia’s agriculture, forestry and water management ministry has prepared amendments to the law on GMOs and the draft has been sent to the EU for evaluation.

Serbian environmental groups have already started campaigning against the proposed changes.

The Ecological Movement of Novi Sad campaign group sent a letter to the Serbian parliament in December 2012 calling on lawmakers to retain the ban on GMO products and launched a petition to back its cause. 

Supporters of GMOs say there is no proof that GM food is harmful to health or damages the environment, that GMO plants reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, and that GM food has a role to play in tackling world hunger.

Critics, however, say GM food causes some diseases and the cultivation of GMOs adversely affects the environment.

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