Public debates / Stakeholder activities

Public debate and stakeholder opinions

There is little interest in Belgium in today's GM plants. However, public discussion has covered co-existence as well, since most conventional farmers are not generally opposed to GMOs.

Belgian conventional farmers want the freedom to choose between GM and GM-free cultivation.
Belgian conventional farmers want the freedom to choose between GM and GM-free cultivation.
Positions on co-existence

Farmers

The Farmers Union (Boerenbond) wishes to keep all technological options open for farmers, and finds that a GMO should be made available if it can solve a farmer's particular problem. With regards to co-existence, the union stresses that the rights and choices of farmers should be respected. A further demand is for administrative simplicity.

Organisations of organic farmers share the view of most consumer and environmental NGOs that GM plants should not be introduced in Belgian agriculture.

Feed manufactureres

In 2004, the Belgian feed industries associated in BEMEFA have set up a policy together with the Belgian food industries (FEVIA) and the retail sector (FEDIS) on how to implement the European GMO labelling and traceability legislation. For the feed industries themselves they have created a manual for the manufacture and distribution of GMO controlled feedstuffs. Feed manufacturers respond to the requirements of their buyers. Today about 20 percent of Belgian feedstuffs are produced as certified GMO-free. The rest of the feedstuffs contains GMOs to some degree. BEMEFA has calculated that the production of certified GMO-free feedstuff costs the sector about five million euros annually (based upon 2004 figures).

Food manufacturers

Food manufacturers in Belgium follow a pragmatic approach. They do not have an opinion against the use of GMOs but simply answer to retailer and consumer demand. Together with the feed industries and the retail sector they have set up a guide on how to implement the GMO legislation.

Distribution and retail

The Belgian distribution and retail sectors have worked together with food manufacturers and feed manufacturers on guidance with regard to the GMO legislation. Retailers are not inclined to put GM labelled products on their shelves. Carrefour has had GM labelled frying oil on their shelves for some time. This was their white label product which is composed of cheaply bought ingredients for which it was not possible to say whether they where free of GMOs. There has been some protest and media attention to this product.

Consumers

Consumer organisations are opposed to GM foods in general, and consider the co-existence debate to be a debate for or against GMOs. These organisations state that, due to the potential admixture of all foods to a certain extent with GMOs, allowing GM plants would end, effectively, consumer choice.

NGOs

There are different NGOs that have an opinion concerning GMOs in general and on co-existence. Many environmental NGOs and organic farming organisations criticise the fact that the co-existence legislation only covers economic liability, and not environmental liability. In the implementation of the environmental liability directive 2004/35/EC they seek to bring in this environmental liability for GMOs for entire Belgium, and not restricted to certain protected habitats, or certain protected forms of wildlife. For GMO issues a number of NGOs have formed a platform which they use to voice their concerns about GMOs.

The platform consists of:

There is a separate opinion specific on co-existence produced jointly by BBL, Velt, Wervel and Greenpeace Belgium. 

In the Walloon region especially, Nature & Progrès is active in the debate about GMOs and co-existence. Their view is that there is no place for GMOs in the Walloon agriculture. They have lobbied firmly for very stringent co-existence legislation.

Consultation activities

In connection with the development of a legal framework on co-existence, there have been consultation activities in both Flanders and Wallonia. In Flanders, only relevant farmers' organisations have been involved. In Wallonia, there has been a broader consultation, in which industries and the scientific community also have participated.

Initiatives against GMOs

In recent years, there has been a broad initiative to encourage municipalities to declare themselves GM-free. This initiative follows examples from other European countries.




Regional Co-extra reporter /rapporteur:
  • René Custers
    Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)
    Rijvisschestraat 120, B-9052 Zwijnaarde, Belgium
    Website: http://www.vib.be/
    Email: rene.custers@vib.be
    Phone: +32 9 244 6611
    Fax: +32 9 244 6610


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