Hidden GMOs in Overseas Countries and territories?

Written by STOP OGM Pacifique and published in Septembre 2015 in the Inf'OGM newspaper

http://www.infogm.org/5845-OGM-caches-dans-pays-et-territoires-outre-mer-PTOM (french version)

The association STOPOGM Pacifique questions the implementation of regulations on GMO crops, seeds, and other food matter in OCTs (Overseas Countries and Territories). The General Director of International Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO) who is in charge of European – OCT relations at the European Commission, has invited the association to question State Members since: “the OCTs are associated, but not necessarily a part of the European Union (EU) (part IV of the treaty on the functioning of the EU), and by consequence, the legislation of the EU, including the legislation on GMOs, are not automatically applicable.”

The OCTs are dependent on four European Union Members: Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. But, they are not necessarily European territories even if the people can claim European citizenship. Their status, and relations with the EU are defined case by case. Also, their autonomy on matters of regulations and their degree of sovereignty can be quite varied. [1] [2]. Insularity and isolation are particularly common in these territories spread out all over the world. About 50% of the OCT commercial trade is done with the states with whom they are connected to, while supplementation of foods or agricultural inputs is heavily dependent on the closest regional powers: the United States and Canada for St. Pierre and Miquelon, Australia and New Zealand for New Caledonia, the Americas for the Caribbean Islands, etc.

Transparency is not in place

In New Caledonia, STOP OGM Pacifique spent nearly one year trying to obtain from the authorities clear and reliable information about the application of the French regulation concerning GMOs and the Cartagena Protocol. New Caledonia is not included in this agreement like most OCTs, implying of course, that those national regulations do not apply in the domain of OCTs. At the same time, in French Polynesia, the biosecurity rules are blurred: on the Biosecurity authority website it declares that “the importation of GMO species are unauthorized until the conclusion of their safety by scientific authorities” despite the biosecurity regulation does not mention anything about [3]. The threat  remains serious because French Polynesia maintains agricultural ties with Hawaii, the favored land for multinational GMO companies, where the GM papaya has been cultivated since 1998 (90% of the papaya crop is GM) and where more than 5000 experiments have been conducted[4].
Unclear regulations seem to favor some companies. For example, Oxitec, the world’s leader in GM insects, created a project in 2009 in the Caiman Islands where they first introduced GM mosquitoes into the environment without the requirement of the Cartagena Protocol, ratified by Great Britain, was not respected, in particular in relevance to public information
[5].  This same enterprise has approached the Pasteur Institute of New Caledonia for GM mosquito trials on the smallest of the loyalty islands, Tiga. It has ideal conditions: Tiga is an island of 10 square kilometers with only 150 inhabitants, and is particularly isolated from the rest of the territory: a mini laboratory, benefited by the proximity of a French research facility, especially during a time when Europe has been confronted with the spread of mosquito borne diseases like Dengue fever or Zika [6].
Papayas and bananas (in the Pacific), coffee (trials conducted by CIRAD in Guyane
[7]), mosquitoes (Caiman Islands) so many “exotic” GMOs potentially experimented or cultivated in “tropical paradise” and with little information available to EU state members. Even when the regulations on GMOs apply, the OCTs find themselves confronted by two major problems in the realm of agriculture and trade: the difficulty of enforcing adequate control tools and dealing with the fragility of their markets in regional spaces. St. Pierre and Miquelon is a classic case: situated near the North American continent, this island is directly linked to the Canadian economy situated less than 30km away. (It is near Prince Edward Island where Aquabounty produces eggs for GM salmon).
On the other hand, the autonomy of OCTs permits them to have liberty over the legislation on GMO crops or labeling apart from the heavy-handed framework of regulations in the EU. In this way, the ban on the importation of seeds (fruit and grains) was made by the New Caledonian government in 2014, the territory had given value to the preservation of the local agrobiodiversity. In Bermuda, the ban on the importation of Round-up has gained momentum and the farmers hope to obtain a test on GM seeds imported here [8].
In conclusion, the application of legal texts on GMOs in Overseas Countries and Territories depends in part on the positions of EU State Members concerned and also in part of voluntary local political decisions. Choosing not to regulate the dispersal of GMOs in the OCTs to the detriment of the environment and the rights of consumers is one thing, not arranging for the access of information is another thing entirely. Wishing to shine light on these processes in Europe and in the hidden corners of the world, STOP OGM Pacifique has carried out a project to inventory the regulatory plan of action in 24 European OCTs [9].

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