On 20 March Italian activists occupied the headquarters of the EU's food safety agency EFSA in protest against its unscientific and undemocratic GMO assessments.
The account below provides a clear account of what's wrong with the GMO regulatory procedure – including the influence of the GM industry-funded lobby group ILSI on the rules under which GMO safety is assessed.
Coverage of the action was also provided by eufoodpolicy.com ("EFSA building stormed by anti-GM activists"). (behind paywall)
GMO-Free Europe: activists occupy EFSA headquarters
Global Project, 21 Mar 2014
[slightly edited by GMWatch for clarity]
* EFSA and the EU Commission act much more like agents of biotech companies than like the institutions they are supposed to be. That's why our action aimed to raise [awareness of] these issues
On March 20 about 100 activists from the social centers of Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and North-East of Italy entered the EFSA's headquarters in Parma, and occupied it for half an hour, also blocking the ongoing proclamation of the new executive director.
EFSA, the European Food Security Agency, is not a “private” place. It is a public one instead.
Firstly for its status [as a] European institution. But above all because it is in charge of our collective and individual safety and the ecological security, [concerning] food and crops.
As we detail below, there are many criticisms that can be raised about the way EFSA evaluates the risk of the GMOs. Those criticisms have been raised and discussed in the past by many scientists and environmental associations.
However, no answers came from EFSA, nor have its guidelines been modified in any respect.
While the biotech companies are aggressively trying to invade Europe with GMO cultivations, it is mandatory to publicly expose the lack of a rigorous and scientific evaluation of GMOs risks in the EFSA process as it comes from the guidelines and [process].
Furthermore, the risk assessment is only one of the factors under scrutiny when the EU Commission makes its final decision (almost every time against the opinion of the majority of States). We would like to know what are precisely the other factors that are evaluated and what is the relative rank of the risk and safety issues.
In our opinion, EFSA and the EU Commission act much more like agents of biotech companies than like the institutions they are supposed to be.
That's why our action was aimed to raise unavoidable attention on this issue and we think it was totally legitimate.
The police stormed on us right after the action, when we already [left] of the building, and started to close all of us in the court.
We tried to get out and the police counter-reaction was grossly and unreasonably violent, by use of batons, spits, punches, and insults.
A police officer pulled out his gun …
After that we improvised a demonstration, along with the police continuing to be extremely aggressive, and other clashes took place. Several people were injured and the police wanted to identify all the activists because of the occupation and the subsequent resistance in the court and throughout the demonstration.
However, the activists at that point, blocked by dozens of cops on a bridge, refused to be identified and asked the identification of police officers responsible for violence instead.
The police then decided to renounce the massive identification and let the activists out.
All that sounds totally shameful and clearly shows how delicate are the issues that we raised.
Food, Hearth, and Community: against bio-capitalism and GMOs for food sovereignty and safety
Today a hundred activists from social centers of Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and North-East of Italy have occupied the EFSA headquarters in Parma.
EFSA is the European Food Safety Agency, and with this action we boost again a direct and radical conflict against the GMOs crops in Europe.
Social centers, activists, farmers; many of us are organizing starting from the rage and dignity that moves farmers all around the world.
GMO crops, as an industrial intensive cultivation, exert a unacceptable violence on the agriculture, the environment, and our bodies.
They do not have any reason to exist but the profit of the companies that produce them and the control over the food chain they allow: the wishful thinking with which they are advised is no more than a [collection?] of wrong ideas and data.
They do not increase yield, they lead to an increase of herbicides and pesticides use, they [cause] the onset of superweeds and resistant insects, and exhibit potentially dangerous effects for human health.
Along with the industrial intensive agriculture, they are among the main contributors to climatic changes and ecological crisis.
While reducing biodiversity, impoverishing the terrain, and unacceptably introducing the copyrights on seeds, they undermine the food security and sovereignty, the freedom of choice for farmer and communities, and the share of food sources.
All that is unacceptable, neither we are keen to wait for the lobbies' game play. Furthermore, farmers who want to be the agent of biotech do not wait as well, constantly forcing the law and the limits and, above all, trespassing the biological borders of our own bodies.
For all these reasons, today we have occupied the EFSA headquarters, because the Agency and the European Commission only guarantee to biotech companies a gateway to Europe.
EFSA did not reject a single application. Because of the high scientific level of the proposals, they say. However, often in the past several scientists raised criticisms about the fact that EFSA's decisions only rely on documentation provided by the very same proponents, and that that documentation is often based on grey data (not publicly available, not published in peer-reviewed journals).
The EFSA's guidelines are simply shocking.
- Applicant companies have the full freedom to determine the essential elements upon which the risk assessment must be based, and the approaches taken into account are among those most favourable to biotech industries and have been established by, or in tight collaboration with, scientist involved in industry.
- The main pillar of the risk assessment is the so-called “comparative safety assessment”, which is the parallel of “substantial equality” used at FDA.
It has been defined by scientists working with ILSI, a biotech-funded institute, while they, in the same years, had relevant positions in EFSA.
EFSA then, as suggested by ILSI, consider the comparative safety assessment as the basis for the safety assessment itself instead of just a starting tool in a more rigorous process.
- The comparative safety assessment does not have a real scientific base, at least because its definition is at least nebulous and, above all, not at all quantitative.
Moreover, it totally lacks any account for the fact that the methods of DNA engineering have nothing to do with common gene regulation and heredity. The risk that newly introduced genes are capable of escaping to, or interfere with, the normal gene regulation is specific of this technique and the comparative assessment is totally inadequate to address it.
However, was it applied as rigorously as possible, it will be sufficient to reject many applications. As a matter of fact, it is well known that many GM plants differ significantly in levels of nutrients, proteins, and sometimes in toxins and allergens.
Exactly on the purpose of avoiding this, the comparison is not made between the GM plant and its isogenic counterpart cultivated at same time, place, and conditions (that would comply with EU directive 2001/18).
It is made with a very large database, built up by ILSI, that contains a very large variety of that specie, cultivated in different times and places and totally different conditions. That database comprises also very unusual varieties with very low or high level of some component.
That on purpose of making the range for the comparison so large that anything would basically fit in it.
EFSA allows the use of that database without asking for more rigorous application of even the comparative assessment itself.
- EFSA does not require any assessment of the synergic and combinatorial effects of different toxins/herbicides expressed, in spite of the fact that combinatorial effects cannot be foreseen starting from the isolated effects of each factor.
- EFSA does not require a comprehensive assessment of risk for non-targeted organisms at all level of the food chain
- EFSA does not require that the stacked effect of different genetically engineered traits are evaluated, that is to say that a GM crop with more than one trait is not considered a new specie, and the assessment relies on assessments of each trait singularly treated.
- There is not a clear definition for the case in which a GM application must be rejected
- There is not any clause for the submitted raw data to be made available to the scientific community for further independent studies and evaluations.
All that is totally unacceptable and would be simply ridiculous if it wasn't outrageous, considering that national authorities must rely on safety assessments from EFSA.
However, one would say, that safety assessment is just “one among others” of the factors that the EU Commission evaluates when approving an application. It would be interesting to know whether there is a ranking among those factors, and what it is.
Finally, let's just make a “comparative assessment” between what Monsanto declares --
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job.”
(P. Angell, NYT magazine, 25 Oct 1998)
-- and with the EFSA guidelines:
“it is not foreseen that EFSA carry out such studies as the onus is on the applicants to
demonstrate the safety of the GM product.”
A kind of [bewilderment] arises at this point: who is actually in charge of ensuring safety of GM food and crops? Who is controlling that raw data are scientifically sounded? And in what sense, exactly, EFSA guarantees that their “safety assessments” are reliable?
The GMOs are a real battlefield, an open conflict between the bio-capitalism and the freedom to defend the earth, the food, and the health of the ecosystem.