1.France rejects report by EU food agency
2.Monsanto: two former directors sentenced
3.EC agrees to explore GM opt-out proposal
4.Malta stands firm against GMOs

NOTE: Second item is an English translation from the French original by GM-free Ireland -
1.France rejects report by EU food agency
AFP, 3 July 2009

PARIS - France on Friday rejected a report by the European Union's food safety watchdog that said a controversial strain of genetically-modified corn was safe.

In a joint statement, the French ecology and agriculture ministries said the Italy-based European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had failed to take into account requests to change the way it evaluated the risk.

"The conclusions of the council of European environment ministers must be respected," the statement said, referring to a December 4, 2008 decision, approved unanimously, that had called on the agency to overhaul its assessment methods.

France and five other EU members -- Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have suspended sowing of Monsanto's MON810 maize, invoking safeguard clauses on the grounds of potential environmental hazard.

On Tuesday, EFSA's GMO panel declared that the product was safe both for health and the environment.

A gene inserted into the maize that makes it pest-resistant "does not raise any safety concern, and ... sufficient evidence for the stability of the genetic modification was provided," the panel said.

The French statement noted that 12 EU states had written to EFSA less than two months earlier.

On May 6, the 12 had called on the agency to ensure that safety assessments also cover any impact on other forms of wildlife and whether pests could develop resistance, as well as other criteria.

"The opinion given by EFSA [on Tuesday] could not take these methods into account, as they were still being reviewed, with completion scheduled in 2010," the statement said.

Genetically-modified crops are widely grown in North America, South America and China.

But in Europe they have run into fierce resistance, led by green groups who say the crops carry risks through cross-pollination, potentially creating "super-weeds" that are impervious to herbicides.

Only a handful of genetically modified crops have been approved for cultivation in the European Union, but of them only MON810, approved in 1998, is so far being grown.

The MON810 case has become a source of transatlantic friction. The United States has warned Europe against using environmental issues as an excuse for protectionism.
2.Monsanto: two former directors sentenced
Le Figaro, 1 July 2009

PARIS - The Cour de cassation [French Supreme Court of Appeal] rejected the appeal by two former Directors of Asgrow France, the subsitiary of the American seed company Monsanto, thus finally confirming their fines of 5,000 and 10,000 Euros for "placing GMOs on the market without authorisation", judicial sources revealed on Wednesday. On 8 November 2007, the appeals court of Montepellier had acquitted the two men from the charge of "placing on the market of fasified, corrupted or toxic agricultural products", "deception" and "false advertising", but condemned them for "placing GMOs on the market without authorisation."

The court had also reduced the initially imposed fines of 15,000 Euro to 5,000 and 10,000 Euro. The consumer defence association UFC Que Choisir [What to Choose] had filed a civil lawsuit after analyses of American soya seeds stocks which Monsanto sold to an company in [the town of] Albi revealed the presence of GMOs.

Concerning the acquittals, the court had ruled that the seeds were not corrupted, and had "not been the object of an intentional modification". Nor had the court retained the charges of deception or false advertising, because it said "the clients were aware that the soya seeds could have contained a proportion of GMOs below or up to 1%.
3.EC agrees to explore GM opt-out proposal
Food Production Daily, 26 June 2009 t-proposal

The European Commission has agreed to draw up a list of options for further discussion after 11 countries urged that individual nations be allowed to opt out of growing genetically modified (GM) crops.

The group, lead by Austria, tabled the proposal at yesterday's Environment Council meeting. The bid is being seen by some as one possible solution to break the deadlock that has dogged the proliferation of GM produce over the past decade.

This view was reinforced after the Netherlands, a traditionally pro-GM country, did not object to the bid. Once source told that Dutch officials saw the move as a practical resolution to a long-running problem.

Under the proposal, the rule change would national governments say-so over cultivation only, with decisions surrounding authorisation and bringing products to market still being made at EU level.
4.Malta stands firm against GMOs, pushes for nationalisation of GMO regulation
The Independent (Malta), 5 July 2009

In a recent meeting of the EU's Environment Council, Austria, supported by 12 other countries including Malta, submitted a note proposing the way forward on the legislation dealing with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture a source of ongoing bioethics debates.

The use of GMOs in agriculture is one of the rare subjects of EU legislation where no qualified majority has been achieved within the EU Council in recent years.

By way of the proposal, submitted during the 25 June Environment Council meeting, the 13 member states are calling for the authorisation process for GMO cultivation to be revisited, so that it will become the right of each individual country to decide whether to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of authorised GMOs in its territory.

The Austrian proposal is being supported by Bulgaria, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines GMOs as organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.

The technology allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are developed because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer, which is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both.

During the Environment Council meeting, Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs George Pullicino, representing the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the environment, questioned the current EU process to authorise the cultivation of GMOs.

Mr Pullicino called for a new process that would allow member states a freer hand in deciding on these matters at local level.

He stressed that decisions would be able to factor in local specificities, allowing European citizens to better understand the decisions.

On four occasions in the last four years, a qualified majority in the EU Council voted against proposals to lift the safeguard clauses with regard to certain GMOs.

In the most recent meeting on 2 March, 22 member states voted against a European Commission proposal to repeal bans on MON 810 genetically modified maize, which is the only GM crop that is widely grown in Europe.

In addition to risk based assessment (safe for human health, animal health and the environment), the delegations supporting this initiative said in their note that relevant socio-economic aspects should play a role in the authorisation of GMOs and GMO products.

They could also form a basis for individual member states to prohibit or regulate the cultivation of GMOs in the whole territory, or certain defined areas of individual member states. There is currently no methodology available for defining and evaluating socio-economic criteria.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has started a process to re-evaluate the respective regulations on GMOs, that is, Directive 2001/18/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 1829/2003. Austria’s proposal suggests a set of minor amendments to relevant EU legislation, which could be based on the subsidiarity principle and the principle of unanimity for decisions on land use.

At present, any EU licence for import or cultivation of a GM product is for a 10-year period and always applies across all the bloc’s 27 member states.

Even though EU law provides, under certain strict conditions, for a country to restrict GM crop cultivation or GM product imports, authorisation licences are valid across the bloc in accordance with the principles of the single EU internal market.