It would be a treat to be able to take a leaf out of the supermarket tabloids and start this column with a headline that sounds like one of theirs but is pinched from the BBC: "Astronaut in 'love kidnap plot.'"
It's so unlike the usual sober announcements from Auntie, as the Beeb is fondly known in Britain. And if it weren't describing a current and rather sad story, you could file it alongside other gems like the recently-seen-in-the-checkout line, "Woman Delivers Own Baby While Skydiving" and "Alien Mummy Goes on Rampage."
Sadly, the news banner would be even odder coming under the Eat To Live category. So you'll have to make do with the more relevant declaration that is almost equally startling: "One million EU citizens call for labeling of GM foods."
That is a lot of worried individuals. What's interesting about it is that these 1 million citizens in 21 countries across Europe have not put their signatures to petitions for the end of the war in Iraq. Nor for effective action to deal with global warming. Or HIV/AIDS in Africa, Darfur or child labor. Or other life-affecting horrors. They've put pen to paper over biotech food.
Consumers in the United States appear not to give a hoot about genetic modification. They've been merrily chomping their way through processed foods containing genetically modified tomatoes, or derivatives of GM soy and corn for years now. Organic or natural farmers striving to keep their land free from GM contamination are dismissed as woolly liberals, their protests barely covered in the mainstream media.
Americans may wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, under EU law, the kind of processed foods like ketchup, cooking oil and cake mix must be labeled if the ingredients include 0.9 percent -- an almost imperceptible amount -- of genetically modified organisms or more. So consumers can take their pick when buying.
The problem is a loophole. Food products derived from animals that have been raised on GM feed don't need to be labeled.
This Greenpeace-organized petition, just delivered to the Commission in Brussels and reported under that specific headline by EUobserver, an independent newsletter covering European Union and Commission affairs, calls for meat, eggs and milk from animals that have been fed with genetically modified crops to be labeled accordingly.
Europeans are concerned enough about GM foods that many of the major supermarket chains have banned biotech ingredients from their own-brand foods for some years now.
Tesco, Britain's largest group; Carrefour, France's biggest supermarket chain; Delhaize, the second-largest supermarket group in Belgium, and Italy's Parmalat all have removed any trace of GM ingredients in their own products. All because their customers made it clear with their buying practices that they weren't convinced by the scientific reports of the health safety of GM foods. Nor were they impressed by the efforts of test field scientists to contain the spread of GM seeds and pollen to adjoining farms, some of them organic.
In this current revolt, the general public has more faith, according to Greenpeace, in studies that have shown that animals react badly to genetically modified crops. Up to 30 percent of farm animals' regular diet, the group says, contains genetically modified organisms. It also contends that more than 90 percent of GM crops imported into the European Union are soy and corn destined for animal feed.
The industrial food industry inside and outside the European Union declares these fears are politically motivated and not based on sound science, that they are unfairly restricting their access to the very valuable European market.
In August 2003 the United States lodged a case against the EU ban with the World Trade Organization. The WTO last year called the EU's refusal between 1998 and 2004 to approve any genetically modified organisms illegal. It argued that the moratorium was not justified scientifically and in effect amounted to a trade barrier.
But here's a little gem that may interest voters inside the United States. Whether he'd like to or not, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou must take action to investigate the accusations behind the continent-wide petition.
According to the European Constitution, if any petition collects 1 million signatures, the commission can be asked to investigate the issue.
"A petition supported by 1 million signatures of course shows a strong interest on the part of European citizens for a specific issue and therefore we will take this into serious consideration," Kyprianou said at a news conference with Greenpeace.
The European Constitution has not, however, been sanctioned. Nonetheless, as Marco Contiero of Greenpeace said at the conference, "Even if the EU constitution is not ratified it is still a principle for the EU -- it has a political weight that cannot simply be disregarded."
© Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc.