In late January last year Slow Food presented the European Council of Ministers with a petition containing thousands of signatures of producers, experts, enthusiasts and members of the trade all over Europe adamantly saying no to transgenic vines.
‘Now let’s see what’ll happen?’ I asked myself at the time. Italy subsequently took a firm stand and persuaded Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Austria and France to do the same. As a result, discussion of Directive 68/193/EECin favor of genetically modified vines was postponed indefinitely until further studies and checks had been carried out.
Then, last Thursday, Spain, which is to hold the Presidency of the Union for the next six months, re-slated the modification of the directive ‘to fill a legislative gap’. Experts from the various Member States then reached a pro-GMO agreement and their Ministers of Education (God knows what they have to do with the matter?), who happened to be in Brussels at the time, amended it accordingly. Which is all it takes for a directive to become valid. So what happened to our signatures? Forgotten about without even a modicum of political discussion.
It all makes you wonder how the European Union takes its decisions? No more than two months after declaring zero-tolerance against GMOs, the Italian Agriculture Minister finds himself having to put up with a letdown of this kind. The directive is in line with all the EU’s in agricultural matters. Choices are systematically made without bearing in mind the technical and scientific aspects pointed by the most distinguished scholars and experts. Worse still, producers, the people directly involved, aren’t even given a look in. Not to dwell for the umpteenth time on the importance of the principle of precaution vis-à-vis the introduction of transgenic organisms on European markets and the environmental risks it would entail, but it’s important to make clear that, in the vine and wine sector, many other dangers are involved. Italian denominations in particular would be jeopardized, and the wines and vines that are adding great luster to our national enology would risk losing prestige. Huge problems are in store. For example, how will it be possible to protect a true, historical Nebbiolo from a GM Nebbiolo which, albeit not the same thing, would presumably expect to bear the same name?
At this point , DOC and DOCG Protection Consortia and other comparable organizations in other European countries have to modify their disciplines and ban GM vines. Yes, producers have to be intolerant towards transgenic vines, demanding clarity on label legislation and developing autonomous initiatives to defend ‘OGM-free’ vines. I also suggest that the Italian Città del Vino Association ask its member cities to ban the planting of transgenic vines in their respective areas. Last but not least, Italian politicians should stick to their guns and maintain the moratorium on GMOs; otherwise, bureaucratic subterfuges are going to turn their declarations of intent on their heads. Most important of all, they shouldn’t fiddle with the environment and wine for the sake of appearing ‘European’ and, worse still, to curry favor with sympathetic Prime Ministers such as Aznar and Blair.
First published in Agricoltura – La Stampa 17/02/02
(Adapted by John Irving)