EU ministers back GM-free zones
2.Ministers agree to much tigher GM controls
3.Environment ministers want reform of EU GMO authorisation system
1.EU MINISTERS BACK GMO-FREE ZONES
EurActiv, 9 December 2008
*Long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs should be improved and member states allowed to establish GMO-free zones, EU ministers agreed last week.
On 4 December, the bloc's environment ministers concluded [http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/envir/104509.pdf] a six-month process launched by the French EU Presidency aimed at overcoming the Council's inability to take authorisation decisions on new GM products for cultivation in the EU.
It is not yet clear whether the conclusions of the exercise will actually help to break the current deadlock. Nevertheless, ministers agreed to:
*Improve evaluation of the medium and long-term environmental impacts of GM crops, in particular of pesticide-producing and herbicide-resistant GM crops;
*launch a joint European Commission and member-state reflection group in 2009 to define and consider socio-economic implications of placing GMOs on the market (such as cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of the entry of GMO seeds into the overall agricultural system);
*improve the use of member-state experts in the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) safety evaluation of GMOs;
*fix Community thresholds for the presence of GMOs in conventional seeds;
*protect, on a case-by-case basis, sensitive and protected areas by establishing GMO-free zones.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas believes it is "absolutely vital" that member states participate in GMO risk assessment and that their involvement in EFSA's work is reinforced. Dimas said the Commission wants member states to define measures to allow the establishment of GMO and GMO-free zones in order to "facilitate the co-existence of both types of crops".
EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, warns against further delays to EU approvals for GM crop cultivation applications. "There has not been one new GM crop cleared for cultivation in the EU for ten long years. The current de facto moratorium on new approvals has to end so that EU farmers can choose the technology that works best for them," the association said in a statement.
"It is now the time for action and we anticipate implementation of existing legislation to allow for the approvals of biotech crops for cultivation without further and unnecessary delay," said EuropaBio's secretary-general, Willy De Greef.
Greenpeace's European unit welcomed the "clear signal" member states had sent to the Commission on the "need to improve the way we assess the impact of GM crops on the environment, on our health and on the lives of millions of farmers". "It is now up to the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority to implement these recommendations," said Greenpeace EU's GMO policy director, Marco Contiero.
Meanwhile, the NGO deplored that due to pressure from the United Kingdom and the Commission, which are "pushing to lower safety standards on GMO seed contamination," ministers "failed to ensure that the seeds that are bought and sold in the EU would remain free of GM contamination".
2009: Launch of a Commission and member-state reflection group to define and consider socio-economic implications of the placing on the market of GMOs.
By March 2010: EFSA to complete its revision of guidelines on environmental risk assessment of GMOs.
By June 2010: The Commission to draft a report on the conclusions of the Commission-member state reflection group on the socio-economic implications of GMOs.
Council: Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Pdf (4 December 2008)
Council press release: OGM : les ministres affichent leur détermination [in French only] Pdf (4 December 2008)
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
Commission: Food safety website:
Business & Industry
EuropaBio: Changes in biotech regulations must not be an attempt to further delay the approvals process Pdf (5 December 2008)
Greenpeace Europe: Environment ministers want reform of EU GMO authorisation system (4 December 2008)
Because the EU's Council of Ministers can never reach a qualified majority to either approve or reject GMOs, the European Commission is free to authorise them on the basis of a special regulatory procedure http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/regulation/regulatory_process/157.eu_gmo_authorisation_procedures.html. Several member states have repeatedly invoked an EU safeguard clause enabling them to suspend the marketing or growth on their territory of GM crops that enjoy EU-wide authorisation, but the Commission has never substantiated their applications and has always ordered the lifting of national bans.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has come under criticism in this regard (EurActiv 05/12/05 http://www.euractiv.com/en/biotech/loophole-clears-way-gm-maize-approval/article-150355 and 10/03/06 http://www.euractiv.com/en/food/austria-criticises-efsa-gmo-bias/article-153305), and the Commission decided to introduce practical changes to the EFSA's GMO-approval process
http://www.euractiv.com/en/biotech/commission-transparency-gmo-decisions/article-154355). In spring 2008, the EU executive mandated the agency to update its guidelines as regards the long-term environmental risk assessment of GM plants.
In summer 2008, the French EU Presidency created an ad-hoc working group and tabled a series of proposals to consider ways of solving the current deadlock in the Council and make product approval or rejection easier.
2.Ministers agree to much tigher GM controls
ï£¿ More devolution of decision-making
ï£¿ Curtailment of EFSA powers
GM Free Cymru press release, 5th December 2008
At yesterday's meeting of the EU Environment Ministers, the member states sent an unequivocal message to the Commission and to EFSA, its advisory body: there must be a dramatic improvement in the way in which GMO risks to health and the environment are assessed.
Prior to the meeting, there were signs that the UK and Germany were planning to wreck the emerging consensus across Europe. However, after a massive lobbying campaign across Europe, with 70,000 messages sent to EU politicians and 3,000 more messages sent in 48 hours to German and UK ministers, they backed off and agreed to a form of words that acceded to most of the demands of the GMO "sceptics."
The agreed words of the statement are -- as ever -- couched in diplomatic terms, and are in many cases open to interpretation; but NGOs and consumer will take great heart from the following key components of the document:
1.There is a re-statement of the precautionary principle as a guiding principle in GMO assessments. This was undoubtedly insisted upon by many nations who had perceived a gradual replacement of the principle (in countries including the UK) by the "anti-precautionary principle."
2.There is to be a strengthening of the environmental impact assessment for GMOs and a strengthening of monitoring requirements.
3.There will be more emphasis on the consequences of use of herbicides and on the indirect effects of using herbicide-tolerant GM varieties. This is in line with the recent tightening of rules within the EU on the use of agricultural chemicals. Most important, the Ministers said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated (in the assessment and approval process) in the same way as chemical pesticides.
4.Member states, competent authorities and EFSA will in future have the right to make specific assessments of the impacts of GMOs in specific geographical areas / ecological niches.
5.Responding to the new research on damaging health effects associated with GM varieties, Ministers are now demanding that if new information becomes available with regard to the risk of the GMOs to human health, the competent authority must prepare an assessment report and indicate how the conditions of the consent should be revised or the consent terminated.
6.There must be a harmonisation of assessment procedures between states. This means that those countries where GMO assessment procedures are lax or non-existent must get themselves organized.
7.For the first time, there is to be a role for independent scientists, scientific organizations and NGOs in the GMO assessment process. An important role is accepted for organizations related to ecological issues. There must also be effective coordination and cooperation between scientists.
8.For the first time, socio-economic effects arising from the cultivation and / or marketing of GMOs are to be considered as relevant to the assessment process.
9.It looks as if (without actually saying so) EFSA'a powers are substantially reduced, and it is instructed to revise its GMO assessment procedures by 2010. Henceforth there will be a key role for member states, including states other than the applicant state.
10.The member states are also given a greater role in GM monitoring where crops are grown. This means that monitoring procedures can in themselves be published and used as "disincentives" for potential GM growers.
11.There will be greater protection from GMOs for special areas -- National Parks and other protected or designated areas like SSSIs. There is to be scope for the declaration of GM Free Zones coinciding with these protected areas.
12.The Ministers insist on a massive reform of the secretive and corrupt assessment process as currently operated by EFSA. Member States and the Commission must henceforth ensure that systematic and independent research is conducted on the potential risks involved in the marketing and growing of GMOs. The necessary resources should be secured for such research by the Community and Member States. Most importantly, independent researchers must be given access to all relevant dossier material, while respecting intellectual property rights. Finally, Member States and the Commission must collect and exchange information on this research.
13.On the matter of the "adventitious presence" of GMOs in organic or conventional crops or products, thresholds must now be set at the lowest practicable, proportionate and functional levels so as to ensure freedom of choice to producers and consumers of conventional, organic and GM products alike. The thresholds must take account of the most recent scientific observations and information on dispersal, adventitious presence and mixing in the process of breeding, multiplication, marketing and using seeds.
14.Finally, regions and local communities will henceforth have the right to declare GM-Free zones.
Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said "These measures, which the Commission and EFSA will now have to accept, represent a fantastic step forward in protecting the environment and the health of consumers. We were seriously worried that the UK, in pursuit of its insane pro-GM agenda, would seek to wreck the emerging consensus in Europe on tighter GM controls, but in the event it appears that common sense has prevailed. NGOs and consumer groups across Europe had mobilized their supporters in advance of yesterday's meeting, and individual pleas to Ministers must have had some effect. But in the light of the recent research linking actual harm to the consumption of GM food, it would have been criminally negligent if the Ministers had failed to act.
"The measures now to be introduced represent a substantial vote of no confidence in EFSA, which must be one of the most widely despised of all European institutions. EFSA is required to reform itself and to change dramatically its methods of doing business. We hope we will now see much greater transparency and honesty in the GM approvals process, and much less promotion of the commercial interests of Monsanto, Syngenta and the other biotechnology corporations who have had it their own way for far too long. We will have to ensure that the fine words in the document are not "re-interpreted" or ignored, but not before time, it looks as if the interests of EU consumers are coming to the fore."
Dr Brian John
Tel: + 44 1239-820470
Notes / links:
3.Environment ministers want reform of EU GMO authorisation system
Greenpeace press release, 4 December 2008
Brussels -- Despite the wrecking attempts by a small group of countries, EU environment ministers have sent a strong message today, calling for an improvement in the way the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is being assessed, said Greenpeace. Today's meeting marks the end of a six-month debate initiated by the French EU presidency.
"Member states have sent a clear signal to the Commission that we need to improve the way we assess the impact of GM crops on the environment, on our health and on the lives of millions of farmers," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO policy director. "It's now up to the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority to implement these recommendations."
EU environment ministers have called for assessing the long-term effects of GMOs on the environment, living organisms and health. They also encourage independent research by scientists on GMOs and access to information that is currently kept secret by agro-biotech companies. Ministers meeting at the Environment Council also urged the European Food Safety Authority, which is at the heart of all decisions taken in the EU on GMOs, to consider the environmental impact of herbicides spread over GM crops. They also said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated in the same way as chemical pesticides and recognised the right of regions and local communities to establish GM-free zones.
But under pressure from the United Kingdom and the European Commission, ministers failed to ensure that the seeds that are bought and sold in the EU would remain free of GM contamination.
"The Council has put the future of agriculture at risk and has buckled under pressure from the UK and the Commission which are pushing to lower safety standards on GMO seed contamination," said Contiero.
As environment ministers made recommendations for the review of the GMO assessment in the EU, Greenpeace accused the European Commission of showing contempt for the criticisms expressed by the member states about the current flawed authorisation process by approving Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 soyabean (MON89788).
"No GM crop should be authorised until the EU risk assessment process is thoroughly improved and EFSA is equipped to assess the impact of GM crops," said Contiero.