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Governments do not want GM crop authorisations to be renationalised

Experts call for changes to EU genetic engineering legislatation

Two evaluation reports on the EU’s legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) find that John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, is on the right track with his proposal to allow member states a greater say in decisions concerning the cultivation of GM crops. However, a majority of member state governments reject the proposal.

According to John Dalli, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, the reports confirm that the problem does not lie with the legislation’s design or objectives, but with the way these issues are handled at a political level. Photo: European Commission

On 28 October, John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, presented the findings of two independent evaluation reports that were commissioned by the European Commission a while ago. One evaluates the authorisation procedure for GMO cultivation; the other deals with the approval and labelling of GM food and feed. Both reports were completed at the beginning of 2011 and the Commission carried out an “internal policy analysis” on their findings.

The experts surveyed numerous representatives of biotech companies, farming associations, trade associations, research institutions and environmental associations. The surveys revealed dissatisfaction on all sides with the current situation for the authorisation of GMOs for cultivation. There has been a deadlock at this level for years: the Commission regularly proposes the authorisation of GMOs for cultivation based on scientific risk assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but the Council of Ministers then fails to come to a qualified majority decision for or against the proposal.

The reports come to the conclusion that GMO legislation in the EU does not require dramatic changes, but called for some improvements. Current difficulties in implementing the legislation are, they write, caused by the fact that member state representatives often cite doubts about the scientific risk assessment, but are in fact following political objectives. In order to defuse this situation, the experts propose giving member states a greater say in decisions concerning GMO cultivation. In addition, the approval process for the import of GM food and feed needs to be speeded up because more and more GM crops are being grown around the world, and uniform rules need to be drawn up for environmental monitoring of GM crops.

John Dalli said the reports showed that the European Commission was on the right track. It would soon be proposing more precise requirements for the submission of authorisation applications for imported GM food and feed products. The process could then be speeded up considerably so that authorisation would not take longer than is typical in other parts of the world.

Dalli took the opportunity to draw attention to the Commission’s reform proposal for the authorisation of GM crops. Under the new proposal, risk assessments of GM plants would continue to be conducted by EFSA in accordance with scientific criteria, but member states would be able to ban the cultivation of authorised plants, for instance on socio-economic or ethical grounds. Ladislav Miko, Director-General for Health and Consumer Protection, repeated the concerns that Dalli expressed back in mid-October: that the reform proposal would founder because of opposition by national governments and that member states evidently did not want to assume any political responsibility. The majority of member state governments are of the opinion that the legal basis for national cultivation bans is not firm enough to withstand potential trade disputes with the World Trade Organization. By contrast, the European Parliament, which also has a say in the matter, voted in July 2011 in favour of letting member states decide on the cultivation of GMOs. According to a report by the Dow Jones news agency, however, there are currently no plans for further consultations in the Council of Ministers.