According to the most recent official study from the European Commission, 61 per cent of Europeans are opposed to the development of GM food in Europe, with 59 per cent believing it is not safe for their and their family's health. Last September, a petition organised by Avaaz and Greenpeace calling for a ban on GM crops until safety tests are improved reached its target of a million signatures.
However, the European Commission still seems intent on bowing to heavy lobbying from the GM industry to increase GMO use in Europe. Within weeks of the most recent Commission's inauguration, a new strain of genetically modified potato - Amflora - was authorised. This was followed by an announcement allowing the import into Europe of six further GM crops. And now new proposals for authorising GMOs have been announced, giving Member States the right to ban cultivation on a national level.
Europe's plan to approve GM
The reason for these proposals is that the Commission is getting frustrated with the difficult process of authorising new strains of GMO. Currently, the Commission has to make a proposal for an authorisation of a new GMO. If a qualified majority is not reached in the GM Standing Committee made up of EU government representatives, then the matter is transferred to the Council and the European Parliament becomes involved as well. The Commission has even listed widespread opposition to GMOs as an identified problem in its work programme.
This 'solution', they hope, will lead to quicker authorisations at EU level with the responsibility for any bans handed to governments. In theory, this could be appealing for an anti-GM country, such as Wales, but in reality it has great dangers. The reasons for a ban could be ethical or socio-economic, but not health and safety: the Commission says it would not approve a strain not conforming to these standards in any event. Greenpeace has called the plans 'a trap', as it would be very easy to legally challenge a ban put in place on an ethical or socio-economic basis. The Parliament's legal services have concluded that the possibility of a Member State to actually ban any GMOs is 'narrow'.
Another problem with this proposal is the very real and almost inevitable risk of cross-contamination. Due to cross-border free trade, GM seeds and products would circulate freely, contaminating conventional and organic farmers' products, even in those countries which have succeeded in banning the strain.
There will also be a distortion in competition practices, as farmers using GMO products may be at an advantage. Furthermore, increasing GMO authorisations in Europe would send a signal to the rest of the world that GMOs are becoming more acceptable.
Blocking spread of GM
This is not the message we want to send, especially considering that the Welsh Government takes the most restrictive stance possible on GMOs. A blanket ban is currently not possible due to European legislation, but the Welsh government is a member of GM Free Network of Regions, along with 40 other regions in Europe. This network is active in information sharing and the development of co-existence plans for GM and non-GM crops.
There are increased concerns about the agency designated by the Commission to assess the scientific evidence of each GMO strain. The European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA) bases its assessments on science submitted by the applicant, i.e. the GM producer, and not on independent research. This is obviously unacceptable and I am glad to be sponsoring a petition by GM Free Cymru to the European Parliament calling on EFSA to be investigated.
I am a member of the Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, which is responsible for legislation on GMOs. I want a ban on new GMOs until the risk assessment procedure for each authorisation is improved; measures to avoid contamination are implemented and all food produced from animals who have been fed with GMOs is clearly labelled as such. Labelling is essential for consumers, and a huge amount of people from Wales have been in touch with me calling for customers to have the right to make an informed choice on the food they buy.
There will be a vote on the new legislation in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee in April. Before this vote, I urge all of you to get in touch with your MEP to state your opposition to GMOs and the Commission's new proposals on authorisation.
Last year, there was a 3 per cent increase in GMO production in industrialised nations worldwide, but a 15 per cent decrease in Europe. This is a trend that I, and a majority of the people of Wales, want to see continue.
Jill Evans MEP is Plaid Cymru president and member of the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee
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