Travellers from USA May Face Quarantine

by Andrew Leech (

Athens News (4 January 2000, pp1 and 3)

With rising fears of proliferating environmental pollution, due to accidental cross-breeding of controversial genetically modified seeds (GM), the European Parliament is reviewing proposed legislation to quarantine all travellers from the USA for up to 24 hours to limit the possibility of accidental contamination. As Agricultural Minister, George Anomeritis, put it in an interview with the Athens News, recently: people on business or holidays in the USA have most likely ingested foods containing these seeds, banned in Europe, the DNA of which will be released back into the environment, within a matter of hours, through the process of natural digestion and evacuation of waste.”

Quoting studies by the environmental group Greenpeace, who have already found at least 2 samples of tainted seed in Greece, Anomeritis pointed out “this could lead to a situation where the microscopic spores of the seeds leave sewage containment systems and enter our domestic environment. If they then cross-breed with other plants, we could face the problem of ‘unnatural species’ - what have been termed “killer weeds” - that might damage the environment and prove difficult to eradicate due to their inherent resistance to disease and contemporary pesticides.”

Anomeritis was among those who signed the White Paper placed before the European Parliament last week calling for a one day quarantine of all those returning from countries where GM seeds are harvested, to prevent unwitting importation. At present the proposed legislation affects only travellers from the USA where wheat, cotton and rape seeds (produced by giants like Monsanto and Serle Pharmaceuticals ) are used extensively in foods for both human and animal consumption. The draft calls for facilities to be provided at major European airports, with closed-circuit WCs to allow incoming passengers to release any contaminated waste’ which can then be safely incinerated.

We asked Rod Lynch, Managing Director of Olympic Airways, how this would affect his company’s transatlantic routes and whether the short quarantine period would increase ticket prices. “The financial involvement is negligible,” he replied, “and most passengers will not need to wait the full 24 hours before leaving due to digestive processes operating during the long flight. We are advising passengers not to use the WCs on the aircraft, but to wait until landing. That way they could be free to leave in a couple of hours.”

The French chapter of Greenpeace, however, is not content with the scope of present proposals. They insist that passengers using aircraft toilet facilities where the waste is discharged in flight, might lead to a contamination of the sea or land below, with microscopic spores still managing to enter the food chain. They are asking for improved waste-containment systems to be fitted to all aircraft that do not release material into the atmosphere.

While representatives of the GM companies involved have categorically denied any possibility of transmission of seed DNA to the environment via human waste emissions, calling the White Paper “a ridiculous conspiracy; a sequel to the ‘banana war,’” the US State Department has not made any official announcement on the matter, yet, and it is believed they are awaiting further updates from their envoys in Europe. The US Embassy in Athens was equally non-committal with Ambassador Nicholas Burns pointing out to us that it was too early to make any firm comments. I believe a satisfactory resolution will eventually be found,” he stated, “that is in everybody’s interest.”

(Posted originally to HCS in March 2005; reformatted in February 2007)

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