The growing movement in Spain against the spread of genetically modified organisms originated with the personal experience of Josep Pàmies, a farmer who has always been committed to protecting farm food heritage and agricultural biodiversity. Pàmies, who is the leader of the Slow Food Convivium in Balaguer (Catalonia), has become the figurehead of this battle in Zapatero’s Spain.
The story begins on 13th September 2003 when about fifty members of the Assemblea Pagesa and the Transgenics Fòra platform went to an experimental field where BT176 was being grown. This transgenic corn produced by Sygenta was banned in the US in 2001 because it creates resistance to antibiotics in humans. Following an appeal by international farmers’ movement Via Campesina, activists symbolically cut a small quantity of the corn. A group of 13 people (including children) subsequently went to the Lleida town hall to present the authorities with a petition protesting against unmonitored GMO experimentation in the area.
On finding the town hall door closed, these citizens entered and waited for the person inside the building, which they then left peacefully. One year after this event, Pàmies was accused by an agent of the Spanish Guardia Civil of attempted and actual bodily harm to persons in authority. Although these were serious charges, the movement defending Pàmies proved them to be unfounded since a medical examination showed that the physical harm reported by the agent had been inflicted prior to 2003.
Last 25th June Pàmies was sentenced following a second trial during which the prosecution sought a 4-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 euro. Pàmies was fully absolved after the first trial two years before, while the verdict of the second judicial procedure found him innocent of the charge of attempted harm to persons in authority but ruled a payment of 22,000 euros in damages for bodily harm to the agent as well as legal expenses.
In the last few days Pàmies’ supporters have formed another platform to fight GMOs, called Somos lo que sembramos (‘We are what we sow’), which aims to gather the 50,000 signatures necessary to bring to Parliament a bill moved by the public and thus declare Catalonia a GMO-free area. Vandana Shiva, the Indian researcher active for years in the fight against commercialization of natural resources, has taken the Spanish trade-unionist’s story to heart and publicly declared her support of Pàmies during a conference in Barcelona.
In 1998 the Spanish government authorised the cultivation of genetically modified plants for commercial purposes. Until Rumania entered the EU, Spain was the only nation to grow GMO on a large scale and 31 authorised corn varieties are grown today. Since 1998 the areas where GMOs are grown have been steadily increasing and Catalonia and Aragona are the regions with the most extensive experimental fields.
According to the law the number of experimental fields in each area must be indicated without necessarily giving the precise location. The fields are outside in the open air and unmonitored, and numerous cases of contamination have been recorded. Social organisations have reported the cultivation of illegal varieties, the existence of unauthorised experimental fields, a lack of respect for minimum distances between fields, and scarcity if not total lack of data, information, testing and monitoring.
The increased cultivation of GMOs in Spain is causing huge problems of contamination of other crops and threatening both agricultural biodiversity and consumer freedom of choice. Esporus, a centre for the conservation of Catalan biodiversity, has complained that the only native Catalan corn variety – del queixal – has been contaminated by the GM variety grown in the region, and consequently lost.
According to the magazine Science (25th May 2007), in the last eleven years the worldwide surface area devoted to biotech cultivation has increased sixty-fold with 10 million growers who have planted over 100 million hectares of GM crops in over 22 nations. In the USA, in particular, 90% of soya, 60% of corn and 83% of cotton is genetically modified, despite the results of a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center, which show that one out of every two American citizens does not want this type of food on their table. But legislation does not require GM ingredients to be declared on food labels.
Even in Europe, where the ‘precaution’ principle is practised, in 2004 the European Commission approved the import of seven GM food products for human and animal consumption, thus clearing the path for the cultivation of 31 varieties of Monsanto corn.
The Slow Food international association supports the Spanish movement offering assistance to Josep Pàmies.
Read the appeal for support and join the campaign on this site: www.freepamies.org
Elisa Virgillito works at the Slow Food Press Office
Translation by Ailsa Wood