The People's Biosafety Association demands the parliament to take action
Gene technology control
almost non-existent in Finland
English summary
Last summer genetically manipulated (GM) oilseed rape was planted illegally in Finland, like in many other European countries. However, unlike in many of the other countries, in Finland so far this has not resulted in any action by the authorities. The People's Biosafety Association has investigated the situation of genetic manipulation control in Finland. The results were published in a report that was presented to the Finnish parliament.

- The biosafety situation in Finland is appalling. The planting of GM oilseed rape has not resulted in any real action by the authorities. None of the officials seem willing to shoulder the responsibility of investigating the case, says Markku Rämö, an agriculture journalist and a member of the association's investigation team.

Among others the report quotes Irma Salovuori, the Secretary General of the Board for Gene Technology and the highest regulatory official in Finland for genetic manipulation, who says their current information on the illegal planting of GM oilseed rape is based solely on what they have seen on the news.

No register kept, public information withheld

The officials say there are 13 open field releases of genetically manipulated organisms and that over 130 quarters have made an announcement of testing GMO's in laboratories or greenhouses. However, the Board for Gene Technology refused to give any further information about the tests to the People's Biosafety Association on the ground that no register is kept of the GMO tests. The People's Biosafety Association considers this strange and states that according to the Gene Technology Act the requested information should be public.

- The Gene Technology Act requires the regulatory authorities to keep and update a register of GMO tests. Has the Board for Gene Technology neglected this obligation?, asks Hannu Hyvönen, the chairman of the association.

Patent disclosure stains the image of the Ministry of Environment

In a video interview senior inspector Tuula Pehu, the highest regulatory official for genetic manipulation in the Ministry of Environment, confessed that she and her sister had developed a genetically manipulated potato variety and taken out a patent for it. Ms. Pehu's duties in the Ministry include the drafting of gene technology legislation for Finland and for the European Union and the assessment and control of the environmental effects and risks of genetic manipulation. The People's Biosafety Association considers the case to be alarming but only the tip of the iceberg.

- For example the state funded Consultative Committee for Biotechnology has assumed the questionable role of a lobby for gene technology research and industry, even though decision-makers rely on it as a neutral adviser, says Asko Ali-Marttila, another member of the investigation team. The situation of gene technology control in Finland is summed up in the People's Biosafety Association's report as being almost completely uncontrolled.

- There are countless defects in the legislation and there's no surpervision over the existing laws, says Markku Rämö, the association's vice chairman. - Finland has followed the extremely questionable example of the United States in its almost complete lack of control. In the report the association presented to the parliament it puts forward its own plan in order to solve the problems that were discovered. It demands that both the patent case and the illegal planting of GM oilseed rape be investigated thoroughly and openly.

- If Finland wants to maintain its reputation as a producer of safe food, firm action is needed, says Markku Rämö and adds that negligence could affect the country's credibility in the competition for the placement of the European Union's Food Agency.

The association insists that all testing carried out in Finland be made public and that safety arrangements and assessment of risks be done by disinterested persons at all test sites. It demands that a national genetic resource strategy be formed in an open and extensive process as required in the Rio agreements. It also proposes that a Parliamentary Biosafety Delegation be formed in order to develop open cooperation and dialogue.

Drawn up on behalf of the People's Biosafety Association by: Hannu Hyvönen, Markku Rämö and Asko Ali-Marttila. A four-minute video report (mini-dv format) on the biosafety situation in Finland can be ordered from the association. A longer (approx. 30 min) report is being compiled.

Further information:
Hannu Hyvönen +358-17-717 560
Markku Rämö +358-9-291 6681 or +358-40 553 1336
Asko Ali-Marttila +358-19-443 456, +358-400-727 289