Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. Genetic modification is problematic due to issues involving patent rights on living organisms, damage to the environment and biodiversity, under-researched health impacts, the monopolistic influence of powerful companies on small food producers, and a number of other reasons.
Genetically modified foods are prepared by inserting the genetic material (DNA) from one type to another, using the techniques of genetic engineering. This enables the transfer of one desired characteristic of a non-related species or perhaps between animals and plants. Since GMOs first originated in the laboratory in 1973, this extremely complex issue has divided the world.
During the past few months Serbia has also been dealing with this controversy. The public and the media have been buzzing about genetically modified organisms and Serbia has divided into two fronts: first, the majority of people, who are against GMOs, see them as a threat to agriculture and the health of the population. The other camp, a minority including the government, say that Serbia, at the request of the European Commission, must allow the marketing of GMOs.
This question was open in Serbia after the annual report on Serbia’s progress in the EU. According to the report, if Serbia wants to be part of World Trade Organization, new legislation on GMOs must be adopted in order to be in harmony with European standards. This means that in order to join the World Trade Organization, Serbia must change a 2008 law which prohibits producing or trafficking genetically modified foods on its territory. With membership in the organisation, Serbia can still ban production of foods with genetically modified organisms, but cannot ban the import of it. While some have accepted the argument in favor of changing the law, many remain against genetically enhanced foods.
In response to this a number of citizens across Serbia are united with one goal: a “GMO Free Serbia”. Protests were held in Belgrade in the Main Square, in Novi Sad in the Square of Freedom and in Nis in the Square of King Milan. More than 80% of people in over 90 municipalities and cities in Serbia came together to adopt the Declaration against GMOs and sent it to the President, the Government and MPs with a clear message: “We do not want GMOs in our territory!”
The large number of people who were against the idea оf changing the law in order to enter into WTO is one of the reasons why the law was not changed. Failure to adopt a new law on GMOs precluded a membership in the World Trade Organization, which made it a requirement. The latest reaction from Minister of Agriculture, Dragan Glamočić has been:
We need to harmonize our legislation with EU law, which does not mean that we will allow the cultivation of GMOs.
In the meantime, some of the experts think that holding a referendum in relation to GMOs is a good idea, as has been the case in many countries. According to professor of the Faculty of Agriculture in Belgrade, Miladina Ševarlić, people should take a stand on placing a moratorium on changing the current law on Genetically Modified Organisms, which does not allow their use.
What will be the final result? Whether pressure from the European Union for changes in the law in order to conform to European standards will be more important for the authorities in Serbia than public pressure, remains to be seen!