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Posted 07 Sept 2011

Court ruling on GM pollen contamination of Honey blows hole in the myth of coexistence.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) today issued a groundbreaking ruling in a case concerning the contamination of honey with pollen from genetically modified crops (1)(2). The court ruled that honey contaminated by pollen from a GM maize variety (MON810) cannot be sold on the market, as this maize has not been specifically authorised in honey. The case concerns German beekeeper Karl-Heinz Bablok (3), whose honey was contaminated by pollen from GM maize during field trials of GM maize from Monsanto, back in 2008.

In 2008, an administrative court banned Bablok from selling or giving away that honey. But in a bizarre turn, the Augsburg court also ruled that beekeepers have no claim to protection against the growing of GM crops. They immediately filed a new lawsuit. Discussing today's ruling, attorneys for the beekeepers noted that they may now have "a claim for damages against a farmer if MON 810 pollen from his cultivation gets into their honey." Attorneys Dr Achim Willand and Dr Georg Buchholz explained: "If the beekeeper can no longer sell his honey, this is considered a major impairment causing a claim for damage. If the beekeeper moves his bees in order to prevent this impairment, it is also possible that the cultivator is liable for the additional work and expense of the beekeeper."

In its judgment delivered today, the Court observes, first, that the pollen in question may be classified as a GMO only if it is an ‘organism’ within the meaning of the directive and the regulation, that is to say, if it is a ‘biological entity capable’ either of ‘replication’ or of ‘transferring genetic material’. It holds in that regard that, since it is common ground that the pollen in question has lost all specific and individual ability to reproduce, it is for the referring court to determine whether that pollen is otherwise capable of ‘transferring genetic material’, taking due account of the scientific data available and considering all forms of scientifically-established transfer of genetic material.

The Court concludes that a substance such as pollen derived from a variety of genetically modified maize, which has lost its ability to reproduce and is totally incapable of transferring the genetic material which it contains, no longer comes within the scope of that concept.

The Court goes on to hold that, nevertheless, products such as honey and food supplements containing such pollen constitute foodstuffs which contain ingredients produced from GMOs within the meaning of the regulation. In that regard, it finds that the pollen in issue is ‘produced from GMOs’ and that it constitutes an ‘ingredient’ of the honey and pollen-based food supplements. As regards the honey, the Court observes that pollen is not a foreign substance or an impurity, but rather a normal component of honey, with the result that it must indeed be classified as an ‘ingredient’. The pollen in question consequently comes within the scope of the regulation and must be subject to the authorisation scheme provided for thereunder before being placed on the market.

The Court observes that authorisation scheme for foodstuffs containing ingredients produced from GMOs applies irrespective of whether the pollen is introduced intentionally or adventitiously into the honey.
Lastly, the Court holds that the authorisation obligation exists irrespective of the proportion of genetically modified material contained in the product in question.

The Greens welcomed the ruling, which directly challenges the abandonment of the policy of zero tolerance for GMOs that have not been authorised in the EU (4).

Commenting on the ruling Green MEP José Bové said:

"This case is proof that coexistence is a fallacy and that GM cultivation does not leave a choice for GM-free products. Permitting the cultivation of GM crops clearly leads to the contamination of non-GM crops and other foodstuffs like honey. Beekeepers are powerless to prevent the contamination of their honey by GM pollen, as farmers are for their crops, and thus powerless to prevent the tainting of the foodstuffs they produce and the integrity of their product. The only sure way to prevent this is by precluding the cultivation of GMOs."


(1) ECJ court file available Here

(2)Download Court of Justice of the European Union press release No. 79/11 Luxembourg, 6 Sept 2011

(3)German Beekeepers set up bee hives in front of Bavarian parliament and the Governor's office

(4) Recently adopted EU legislation on animal feed permitted traces of unapproved GMOs despite the absence of a full safety review.


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