Ministers to discuss controversial biotech-friendly Commission report which fails to follow European Court of Justice ruling
European agriculture ministers will discuss the future of a new generation of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), starting tomorrow. These key discussions are the lead-up to a decision on whether or not ‘new’ GMOs should be subject to safety checks or labelling before being allowed on the EU market.
On the agenda of tomorrow’s agriculture council is a study released by the European Commission in April which suggests that there are “strong indications that the current 2001 GMO legislation is not fit for purpose for some NGTs and their products*”, and proposes a new consultation process to rewrite the laws.
Friends of the Earth Europe has been heavily critical of the Commission study, which is biased towards the biotech industry following its sustained campaign to win exemptions from safety regulations for new GMOs. The study makes unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of the new techniques based only on products in the early stages of research. Furthermore, the Commission did not follow its own guidelines in the preparation of the report.
Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said:
Ministers need to put a stop to these attempts to allow new GMOs onto our fields and plates without safety checks.
They must not fall for the spin of the biotech industry which would have Europe tear up decades of the precautionary principle.
Governments need to get on with the urgent business of making our farming system more sustainable by phasing out industrial farming and promoting agroecology.
Agriculture ministers will meet on May 26 and 27. They will either accept or reject the study’s recommendations, or propose their own. EU Environment ministers are expected to also debate the issue in June.
Opinion is divided between ministries and countries. The German environment minister and the Austrian government have both stated that the new generation of GMOs should continue to be regulated by existing EU GMO law. The Hungarians also favour this. The Danish and Dutch ministries supported deregulation of new GMO in their inputs to the EU Commission study.
The Commission’s study, requested in 2019 by the European Council, diverges significantly from a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling which underlined similarities in the potential risks between a new generation of GMOs and their predecessors.
What’s in the European Commission study?
The study was written in-house by the biotechnology department of the Commission and is based on: 1) Member State inputs, 2) a stakeholder consultation, 3) an opinion of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, 4) an opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and 5) two reports of the Joint Research Centre.
Commissioned by the Council: At the end of 2019, Member States requested a study on practical questions of the implementation from the ruling. (Council Decision (EU) 2019/1904 on the study on new genomic techniques. The Council also requested from the EU Commission to inform about measures as a follow-up of the study or some policy options.
Green light for new GMOs?
Friends of the Earth Europe’s analysis is that the study is biased in a number of its conclusions:
Non-industry stakeholders ignored: At crucial points, Member State and other stakeholder views have not been included in the conclusions of the European Commission study on new genomic techniques.
Divergence with European Court of Justice: The health branch of the EU Commission concludes that the current GMO legislation is not fit for purpose. The ECJ ruling, however, found that the framework can be applied to products of new GM techniques developed since the EU Directive was adopted. The Court’s criteria are clear and applicable to new GMOs. The Court’s ruling is shows the framework is fit for purpose, including to cater for scientific and technical progress.
Unsubstantiated sustainability claims: DG Sante concludes that GM crops engineered with new GM techniques can serve sustainability purposes and help to achieve objectives in the Farm to Fork Strategy, e.g. 50 percent pesticide reduction. However, there is practically no information in the study to back this up.
Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on agriculture and environment ministers to ensure that new GMOs can not be marketed without comprehensive safety checks, and to ensure labelling to give farmers and consumers the right to choose.
*new genomic techniques