Growing debate on GM in Europe
3.France to propose concrete solutions to EU's GMO muddle
4.FACTBOX - EU's legal labyrinth of GMO legislation
5.THE BEST PLACE IN EUROPE TO BE GM-FREE
NOTE: These items give some sense of the latest developments on the GMO issue in the European Union. It remains, however, a very compliex issue!
At the heart of the EU's pro-GM lobby is the Commission President, Jose Manel Barroso, who is behind the high level group on GMOs currently looking at the EU's GMO authorisation process (see item 3).
Barroso would like to get Member States to agree on GMOs *behind closed doors* so that there are no more unqualified majorities. These are majorities where although most countries oppose the GM approval in question, it is not by sufficient numbers to finally block the approval.
Instead, the decision on approval ends up coming back to the Commission, which can then adopt its own decision and authorise the new GMO even though a majority of countries were against approval!!!
Barroso and his supporters in the Commission hate people seeing how undemocratic the EU's decision making process on GMOs is, and that it is the Commission and not the Member States that is ultimately driving approvals.
Barroso therefore wants to bring the Member States into line so that they authorise GMOs without any problem as soon as the highly pro-GM EFSA - European Food Safety Authority (see item 1) - gives a positive opinion on a GMO.
Barroso is strongly supported in this by the Commissioners for trade, agriculture, industry and internal markets in particular, who would like to sideline the environmental Commissioner, Dimas, who
takes a precautionary approach on GMOs.
Barroso & co. are lapping up the current hyperbole that the industry's heavily promoting about GM being a solution to the food-feed crisis. This is seen as a great opportunity to force the EU to open up to GMOs.
They are now also pressurising the Commissioner for Health on dropping "zero tolerance". Friends of the Earth Europe have produced a briefing on this issue.
The setting up of the Barroso group could be a way to effectively by-pass the Health and Environment departments and make sure that Barroso controls the GMO issue at the Commission.
The impact on all this of the French Presidency of the EU, and its establishing of a "group of friends of the presidency" to also consider the EU's GMO authorisation process, remains to be seen - see items 3 & 1.
1.GROWING DEBATE ON GM
The Irish Examiner, 27 June 2008 [shortened]
*Europe is the battleground for GM companies that are promoting their seeds as a solution to the global food crisis.
Europe Correspondent Ann Cahill attended an international confererence it Italy that looked at the issue...
Just when you thought the great GM debate had gone away, it is back with a bang. The soaring price of food and fuel has put it back on the agenda as multinational GM companies insist the answer to the problems are to be found in their products.
Critics hit back saying that despite years of research, there are no GM products tha can withstand drought or excessive heat. Instead, evidence from India shows the varieties available are not suitable for many areas and they frequently need too much fertiliser, water, weed and pest killers.
Europe is the principal battleground for GM companies because if they can reduce the EU's resistance to the genetically engineered crops, they create a massive new market for themselves, and will be closer to ridding resistance in the rest of the world.
As one of the world's main importers of food, and Africa's biggest customer, the EU's refusal to take GM means these exporting countries won't plant them...
So far the only GM crop available for cultivation in the EU is Bt maize. It is being grown in just seven countries, the largest crop being in Spain, where 20% of maize is now genetically modified.
GM feed for animals is imported into most EU countries, including Ireland, where most of imported animal feed is genetically engineered. There have been no long-term studies on whether GM feed affects the food chain and despite fears that eating GM food increases allergies in humans, the effect of drinking milk and eating meat from GM fed animals has not been tested.
Arguments in favour tend to emphasise problems such as food supply and rising prices and suggest GM is a solution. For instance, retiered Oxford Professor Chris Leaver contends that GM is safer than salmonella or other toxins in food and suggest the GM actually prevents these.
The US is the home of GM, with dozens of varieties - mainly maize, soya, cotton and rapeseed and they now make up the majority of many of those crops grown. But last year alone, thre were 900 field trials of new varieties in North America.
These field trials are seen by anti-GM campaigners, and by many scientists, as a softening-up exercise by the big GM seed companies.
Ireland has had six GM trials in the past few years mainly on herbicice tolerance and fungus resistance in sugar beet and potatoes.
Similar trials have been conducted around the world but experts like Austria's Environmental Agency expert Dr Andreas Herssenberger says they can be risky, as it is difficult to ensure these untested varieties of GM product do not escape and contaminate the environment around.
Greenpeace discovered recently that a field trial of a virus-resistant GM papaya organised by Cornell University in the US and the Thai government had contaminated the natural papaya trees.
Dr Janet Cotter, senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the University of Exeter, said: "Everyone grown a papaya in their back garden. The government took drastic steps to eliminate the contamination. This was an exercise that backfired badly instead of paving the way for more GM."
The EU's insistence on testing has spawned a whole industry, centered on the European Commission's Joint Research Centre that works with more thatn 140 national and other laboratories worldwide. They have developed much of the testing mechanisms being used by other countries including China, India and Brazil.
They gathered together more than 600 scientists and others involved in the business on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy this week to discuss how to harmonise testing for GMs to ensure every country can meet the same standards.
But even risk assessment is a controversial issue, with the big GM producers saying it adds considerably to their costs. And the three-day conference was criticised by some as having too many speakers who were too biased in favour of the industry.
Perhaps this was because the organising committee was top heavy with US interests. Even though most of them appeared to be European, Brussels-based bodies like Europabio are dominated by their US members such as Monsanto.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), established just five years ago to be the EU's independent agency, has a question mark over its independence. It cleared the GM Amflora potato produced by the German company BASF as safe, but the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Insitut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said they are concerned that the antibiotics used in it would make people resistant to the drugs.
The EFSA also cleared two GM maize varieties produced by Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow, that produce their own pesticide. However, in light of widespread controversy about their safety, it said they were unable to carry out legally-required assessment of environmental impacts.
The fact that some of their senior staff left and joined major GM companies has not improved confidence in EFSA either.
European Commission President José Manel Barroso has joined the fray in suggesting GM could be the answer to lowering food prices in Europe, and has commissioned a study on whether large-scale expansion of GM would curb food prices.
The French, who take over the EU's presidency next week, have said they want to focus on GM and insist they are not in favour. This should create a significant debate on GM in the EU over the coming months...
[EXTRACTED from High food prices may cut opposition to genetically modified food, 8 July 2008]
The European Union has not approved any GM crops for a decade and the 27 member countries often clash on the issue. Outside the EU, Switzerland has a moratorium on growing GM crops, though authorities have granted permission for three GM crop trials between 2008 and 2010 for research.
The market represents a substantial opportunity for GM companies: the European seeds market is worth $7.9 billion from a global total of $32.7 billion, according to data from consultancy Cropnosis. The global GM seeds market was worth $6.9 billion in 2007 and is set to grow further.
Agrochemicals companies are riding a wave of high food prices and roaring demand for farm goods -- and Monsanto, DuPont Co and Switzerland's Syngenta AG have all raised 2008 earnings forecasts already this year.
Although high prices are a boon for farm suppliers, much of the cost has been passed on to consumers, sparking protests in many countries including Argentina, Indonesia and Mexico
3.France to propose concrete solutions to EU's GMO muddle
EurActiv, 8 July 2008.
Paris has announced the creation of a "group of friends of the presidency" to consider the EU's GMO authorisation process, which it wants to take better account of "local specificities".
"We have asked this group to work in two directions," explained French Secretary of State for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in an interview with EurActiv.fr, commenting on a French announcement made at an informal meeting of the EU-27 environment ministers on 4 July 2008.
Firstly, the group will address the evaluation process for the authorisation of GMOs, which, according to Kosciusko-Morizet, is not transparent enough and does not take sufficient account of either the long-term effects of GMOs or national expertise. So far, the approval procedures nearly always end in deadlock in the Council due to strong disagreement between member states on the issue, with the Commission finally forcing GMO approvals on them.
The current EU system "does not allow us to take into account our local specificities" with regard to nature reserves or territorial agriculture, for example, said the French state secretary.
Secondly, the group will discuss "how the potential new effects - unknown at the time of the authorisation - will be taken into account," she said.
We also need to find out how to deal with a "country who might wish to, for example, declare itself GMO-free," added Kosciusko-Morizet.
The French Presidency's group on GMOs is said to "complement" that set up by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last month. Indeed, Barroso has asked the EU-27 heads of state to nominate a senior official to a high-level informal discussion group on the EU's current GMO authorisation process and the way the related European legislation is being implemented by member states.
According to a member-state representative, the French 'friends' group will be an ad-hoc working group seeking to evaluate detailed problems in an in-depth manner and find concrete answers on issues such as the risk assessment procedure. Barroso's high-level group, on the other hand, will rather focus on the "big picture" and the horizontal and global ramifications of the bloc's GMO policy.
The French 'friends' group is expected to start its work in September and submit its conclusions to the Environment Council on 4-5 December 2008. Before that, ministers will discuss the issue in the next Environment Council in early October.
French Presidency press release: Au Conseil informel Environnement, la Présidence franÃ§aise lance un groupe de travail pour renforcer l'évaluation des OGM Ã l'échelle européenne: http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/CP_OGM_cle154a58.pdf
3.FACTBOX - EU's legal labyrinth of GMO legislation
Reuters, 7 July 2008
European Union rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a legal labyrinth.
Several different procedures apply for authorising a biotech product, depending on the uses that the manufacturer specifies in its request for EU approval.
The most common requests are for cultivation, use in food that is destined for human consumption, use as an ingredient in food following industrial processing, and in animal feed.
Some of the most important laws on authorisation have been updated and replaced since the bloc started its effective moratorium on authorising new gene crops and products in 1998.
There are other laws for instance covering contained use (such as in research laboratories) and transboundary movement; and to assign unique identifiers to GMO products.
Here is a simplified guide to the GMO legislation and authorisation process:
A company that intends to market a GMO must:
1. apply to the competent national authority of the EU member state where the product will first be placed on the market, and include a full risk assessment.
2. if the authority gives a favourable opinion, the member state informs other member states via the European Commission.
3. if there are no objections by other member states, the notifying state or its national food safety authority may authorise the product for marketing throughout the EU.
4. if there are objections which are sustained, a decision is needed at EU level and the following procedure is initiated:
- depending on the law used, the Commission asks a committee of member state scientists or the independent European Food Safety Authority for an opinion.
- if the opinion is favourable, the Commission submits a draft decision to a regulatory committee of either food safety or environment experts from the member states. If they agree, the Commission adopts the decision, and authorises the new GMO.
- if the committee does not agree, the Commission sends its draft approval to the Council of Ministers, likely to be either agriculture or environment ministers, who have three months to reject or adopt it. If they do not act within this time, the Commission may adopt its own decision and authorise the new GMO.
Europe's GMO laws
1. Deliberate Release Law (Directive 2001/18):
This is the EU's main GMO law, dating from October 2002. First approvals under this law are limited to 10 years maximum.
The law covers any environmental release of products that contain or consist of GMOs. This includes GMO products for planting, as well as those for use in feed and processing.
The law also has a "safeguard clause" whereby a member state may provisionally restrict or prohibit the use of a GMO on its territory if it has cause to consider that an approved GMO product poses a risk to human health or the environment.
This clause has been invoked at least 10 times; usually, the Commission rules that the restrictions must be withdrawn.
2. Novel Foods Law (Regulation 258/97):
This law dates from January 1997 and covers food products and food ingredients derived from GMOs -- such as flour, starch or oil from a GM maize, paste or ketchup from a GM tomato. Only products deemed safe for human consumption may be marketed.
The law has a special procedure for foods derived from GMOs but no longer containing them. If a food is "substantially equivalent" to existing foods or ingredients, the company may notify the Commission itself (with a scientific justification).
This law has now been replaced by the GM Food and Feed Regulation. Only those products with a risk assessment issued before the new regulation came into force in 2004 -- currently four -- may still be processed under the Novel Foods law.
3. GM Food and Feed Law (Regulation 1829/2003) and GMO Traceability and Labelling Law (Regulation 1830/2003):
These are the EU's most recent laws on GMO authorisations and came into full effect across the bloc on April 18, 2004.
They set down criteria and standardised procedures for evaluating potential risks, as well as rules on labelling feed that consists of GMOs, contains GMOs or is produced from GMOs.
All GM feed and foods produced from GMOs -- including those that do not contain GM material in the final product -- must be labelled.
This applies, for example, to biscuits made from GM maize, refined soyoil made from GM soybeans, and corn gluten feed made from GM maize. The threshold for labelling products where there is presence of an EU-authorised GMO product is 0.9 percent.
If there is presence of GMOs that have not yet been EU-approved but do have a positive EFSA safety assessment, then the threshold is 0.5 percent. Above that level, the product may not be put on the market.
However, there is no requirement to label products such as meat, milk or eggs that are obtained from animals fed with modified feed or treated with modified medicinal products.
Seeds (Directive 98/95)
EU rules on biotech seeds date from December 1998 and are long overdue for an update. However, EU states disagree over the Commission's proposed thresholds for GMO presence in organic and conventional seeds -- and the thresholds are being redrafted.
Currently, they are a 0.3 percent GMO limit for organic and conventional rapeseed, 0.5 percent for maize and 0.7 percent for soybeans. Conventional seeds that contain genetically modified seeds below these thresholds would not have to be labelled.
Two separate committees have been discussing the thresholds: the EU's environment committee under the Deliberate Release law, and the seeds committee under separate seeds legislation. But there has been little progress for several years.
At present, national authorities that have agreed to the use of a seed on their territory must notify the Commission, which examines the information supplied.
If the Commission approves, it includes the variety in the "Common Catalogue of varieties of Agricultural Plant Species" which means the seed can be marketed throughout the EU.
However, the seeds law also requires that biotech seeds must also be authorised under the Deliberate Release law before they are included in the Catalogue and marketed in the EU.
Coexistence: the last piece of the jigsaw
In July 2003, the Commission issued guidelines on how farmers should separate organic, conventional and biotech crops, to ensure that these crop types can be safely grown alongside each other with a minimal risk of cross-pollination.
But rather than pushing for EU-wide legislation, demanded by some countries, it wants EU states to use national laws. As of early 2008, 15 countries had notified coexistence laws, and these must be endorsed by the Commission before they can proceed further. Of these, seven states have adopted actual legislation.
The Commission guidelines refer, for example, to isolation distances between crops, buffer zones and pollen barriers such as hedgerows. They also advise on cooperation between farmers on sowing plans and crop varieties with different flowering times.
The issue is highly controversial as the main problem for countries will be how to determine economic liability. When does a farmer growing GM crops have to pay if a neighbour complains of organic crops being contaminated?
5.GORMLEY: HERE IS THE BEST PLACE IN EUROPE TO BE GM-FREE
By Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent
Irish Examiner, 5 July 2008
THE island of Ireland is in the best position in Europe to be a GM-crop-free region, Environment Minister John Gormley told his EU counterparts in Paris.
He supports a French drive to create GMO-free regions throughout the EU, and to introduce rules to make legalising genetically engineered crops more difficult.
The proposals are likely to bring the EU into conflict with the US whose biotech companies dominate the GM world market. Only one GM crop, Bt Maize, can be legally grown in the EU.
The ministers agreed to set up a committee made up of civil servants representing the member states to study the whole issue of GM and report back before the end of the year.
France, which has taken over the EU presidency, wants more scientific evidence on the safety of GM for human health and the environment. They also want to extend the studies carried out by the European Food Safety Agency to look at how growing GM crops affects peoples lives and livelihoods and to take into account the fact that 70% of EU citizens do not want GM food.
Mr Gormley, speaking after the Paris meeting, said it would be sensible to have completely GM-free regions in Europe but this would be more difficult for some areas as bees and the wind spread GM seeds and contaminate non-GM crops.
It would be practically impossible to isolate GM crops in Ireland, where there are small farms, without them contaminating neighbouring areas.
For this reason he believed the whole island should be a GMO-free zone and this was part of the programme for Government.
It also made sense economically as Ireland exported its agricultural produce and marketed it as being from a clean, green island.
Most consumers and Europe's supermarket chains were not buying GM. "Ireland has a quality food image. This unique selling point would be threatened should GM crops be sown in Ireland," he said.
Head of GM-free Ireland, Michael O'Callaghan, welcomed the move and said so far a big number of regions in Ireland have declared themselves GM-free.
He said it was important for the whole country to be GM-free as it's virtually impossible to prevent contamination. GM companies have sued farmers in countries such as Canada when their crops were found to include GM from seed that had blown onto their land.
Mr O'Callaghan said all GM seed should be banned here. It is imported as animal feed stuff.
All GM must be verified by EFSA as safe before it can be grown in the EU but several EU countries including France and Austria have banned all GM.