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Now these Norwegian protestors against Monsanto are more likely to get their way, following the GMO 'national opt-out' proposals set out by EuroComm. Photo: Caroline Hargreaves via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Now these Norwegian protestors against Monsanto are more likely to get their way, following the GMO 'national opt-out' proposals set out by EuroComm. Photo: Caroline Hargreaves via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
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EuroComm proposes EU country opt-outs on GMO foods


23rd April 2015

The European Commission has proposed new rules on foods derived from GMOs that would allow EU countries to opt out from the Europe-wide approval system - a move that has attracted strong criticism from all parties in the GMO debate.

Today's proposal will, fully in line with the principle of subsidiarity, grant member states a greater say as regards the use of EU-authorised GMOs in food and feed on their respective territories.

The European Commission's proposed new rules on the approval of food derived from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), published this week, have immediately attracted criticism from environment NGOs, the agribusiness sector, the US trade neotiator, and both Green and Conservative MEPs.

For the first time, the proposal formally allows EU countries to opt-out from the Europe-wide approval system and choose whether or not to allow GMO foods in their territories.

"The objective is to give national governments' view the same weight as scientific advice in the authorisation of GMOs in their territory", said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, making the announcement at the Commission's daily press briefing.

"This proposal, when it is adopted, will enable member states to address at national level considerations covered by the decision-making process that we use right now.

"These are new measures and they will provide member states with tools to decide on the use of EU-imported GMOs based on reasons other than risks for health and the environment which will remain assessed by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA)."

In a statement, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: "Once adopted, today's proposal will, fully in line with the principle of subsidiarity, grant member states a greater say as regards the use of EU-authorised GMOs in food and feed on their respective territories."

US 'very disappointed'

US Trade Representative Michael Froman - also America's chief negotiator in the ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between the US and the EU - said the Commission's new proposals will allow member states to ignore science-based evidence and environmental facts:

"We are very disappointed by today's announcement of a regulatory proposal that appears hard to reconcile with the EU's international obligations", he said.

"Moreover, dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU's goal of deepening the internal market."

"At a time when the US and the EU are working to create further opportunities for growth and jobs through TTIP, proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive."

In 2006, a World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement panel found that member state bans of GMO products violated trade rules, as they were not based on risk assessments. Since then, the US has been working to "normalise" agricultural trade with the EU, Froman said in the statement.

Move 'will damage innovation' says GMO lobby group

Froman's criticism echoed those of the European Association of Bioindustries, EuropaBio, which said the rules would undermine internal market rules and thus damage jobs, growth, innovation and competitiveness.

"GMOs are an integral part of our daily lives", as Europeans pay with GM cotton bank notes and wear GM cotton clothes, and rely on GM commodities to feed our farm animals, said Jeff Rowe, chairman of the Agri-Food Council of EuropaBio.

"This proposal would limit the choice for livestock farmers and threaten their livelihoods. It would also set the alarm off for any innovative industry subject to an EU approval process in Europe. Failing to uphold the EU-wide approval of safe products will damage jobs, growth, innovation and competitiveness.

"Together with the European Food and Feed Chain, we urge the Commission - Guardians of the EU Treaties - to withdraw this proposal."

Greens join in the denunciation

But the new proposal also attracted criticism by Greenpeace. Its EU's food policy director Franziska Achterberg said the proposed reform would still allow the Commission to authorise the import of GMOs, even when a majority of national governments, the European Parliament and the public oppose them:

"The Commission's proposal is a farce because it leaves the current undemocratic system untouched. It would allow the Commission to continue ignoring major opposition to GM crops, despite president Juncker's promise to allow a majority of EU countries to halt Commission decisions on GMOs."

And in the European Parliament, the Greens/EFA political group slammed what it described as "a new scheme for renationalising decisions on GMOs in the EU."

"The Juncker Commission is continuing down the slippery slope of easing the way for GMOs in Europe", said Bart Staes MEP, the Green's food safety spokesperson, adding that "the proposed new scheme for authorising food and feed containing GMOs follows the same logic of the recent revision of rules for authorising genetically-modified crops for cultivation."

"By providing the 'carrot' to EU member states to opt out of European level authorisations, it is clear that the Commission is looking to make the decision-making process on EU authorisations easier. This is a completely wrong-headed approach to take to address the situation at hand."

"It is also deeply cynical that the Commission is planning to usher through the authorisation of 17 GMOs in the coming week at the same time as it is acknowledging that the current authorisation system is flawed ... The Commission should be heeding the legitimate concerns of European citizens, rather than bowing to the demands of biotech corporations."

Conservative MEPs' fury

The British Conservatives delegation in the European Parliament denounced the "Commission's cave-in" on GMOs, saying it will prevent imports of animal feed which many farmers rely on to feed their livestock.

Environment spokesman Julie Girling MEP reacted angrily, saying "The EU imports over 70% of its animal feed as it cannot produce sufficient quantities of protein-rich feeds for climatic and agronomic reasons."

For the Conservatives, decisions to allow or restrict the cultivation and sale of GM food "should be based purely on scientific assessment of their benefits or potential risks."

"GMOs authorised at EU level by food safety watchdog EFSA are already deemed safe. It is a dark day when the EU's executive is happy to sit by and watch its own basic freedoms, trade commitments, farmers and consumers suffer while ignoring the scientific advice that taxpayers themselves are paying for."

GM crops are widely grown in the Americas and in Asia, but opinion in Europe is divided. While the UK is broadly in favour of them, France and Austria are among the countries that oppose them. Only one GM crop is currently grown in Europe, Monsanto's maize MON810, in Spain and Portugal.



This article is a synthesis of two articles originally published by Euractiv: 'US trade negotiator 'very disappointed' at European GM food ban' and 'EU proposal on GMO food critisised by Greenpeace, industry'.


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