EU Commission: review of GMO policy

Authorisations even in absence of majority of member states

(23 March 2005) The new, enlarged EU Commission of José Manuel Barroso intends to continue the GMO policy begun under Romano Prodi. After taking stock, the Commission announced that it will quickly be authorising more GM plants and food and feed produced from them. The Commission exhorted member states to be more actively involved in the authorisation procedure.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso: No let-up in GMO authorisations

Markos Kyprianou (Cyprus), Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

For the first time yesterday, the Barroso Commission discussed the GMO policy that it will be pursuing. The discussion centred on a position paper drafted by the six commissioners responsible for genetic engineering and GMO products. The paper notes that a majority of consumers in nearly all EU countries are against GM food. Even the EU’s new GMO legal provisions have not made much difference here. The Commission regards these provisions as some of the strictest in the world: they guarantee a high level of scientific case-by-case safety assessment and offer consumers freedom of choice through comprehensive labelling.

So far, however, only Spain has seen any appreciable development in the cultivation of GM maize.

Passive member states: the Commission decides

The Commission is unhappy about the decision-making procedures for authorisations of GMOs and GMO products. All thirteen decision proposals submitted by the EU Commission since the end of the moratorium in 2004 have failed to obtain the necessary qualified majority either in the "standing committee" or in the Council of Ministers. Generally, a small group of countries has voted in favour of the authorisations, with a larger group against them on principle. The majority of member states have abstained.

Under the European Treaties, if there is no qualified majority, decision-making authority lies with the Commission. Since this political situation is not likely to change much in the short term, the Barroso Commission wants to continue to assume responsibility for authorisation decisions, even if it does not have the support of the majority of EU countries. The Commission reminded the member states to take a more active part in the authorisation procedures and to ensure that they result in clear, scientifically based decisions.

Rapid authorisations

The Commission, in which the new member states are now also represented, is expected to bring a series of authorisation applications up for decision. The first authorisation is likely to be for the import of herbicide-resistant oilseed rape (GT73), about which the Council of Ministers was unable to agree.

By 18 April the Commission must also decide which of the authorisations granted under the old regulations will remain valid. In the process, the Commission will have to check whether the GMO products under investigation meet the new safety requirements.

Coexistence: Decision at the end of the year

The Commission has not committed itself on the coexistence issue. A report on the coexistence regulations issued by the member states is due to be completed by the end of the year. The Commission will use this report as a basis for deciding whether there should be uniform, EU-wide regulations on the coexistence of GMO and conventional farming.