Commission at odds with Parliament over GM crop authorisations

MEPs say that political support for GM crops is waning, while the Commission explores a 'new approach' to the technology [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The EU executive looks set to press ahead with a “new approach” to genetically modified (GM) crop authorisations in the wake of persistent lack of political support for the technology in the European Parliament.

In December, MEPs voted for a further five objections against authorisations of GM crops for use as food and feed in the EU, including one GM soybean and four GM maize varieties. This has brought the overall number of objections to GM crop authorisations to 51 in five years.

In response to criticisms from the Parliament over authorisations of GM crops, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that the executive is “reflecting on a new approach regarding authorisations of GMOs that is aligned to the political ambition set by the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy.”

“This approach would, in particular, ensure that products placed on the EU market become increasingly sustainable,” they added. The comments are in line with those made by Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans while addressing MEPs back in September. 

UK launches consultation on gene editing, signals divergence from EU

In one of its first post-Brexit moves, the UK has launched a consultation on gene editing in a bid to unlock “substantial benefits” for the sector and the environment, but the move could put the country at odds with the EU on the matter. 

Although the latest objections, voted through on Thursday (17 December), are not binding on the European Commission, they offer a “clear and unequivocal signal” that European citizens do not want genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to the Italian Green MEP Eleonora Evi, who urged the Commission to “listen to the voice of European citizens’ representatives”.

“This is a script that has been going on for the last five years, with the European Commission continuing to make proposals for the approval of GMOs and the European Parliament rejecting them in its role as the voice of the citizens of Europe,” she said and added:

“The time has come for the Commission to listen to the voice of European citizens’ representatives and to stop authorising GMOs in the European Union, in defiance of the principles of democracy.” 

MEPs pointed to shrinking political support for GM crops, stressing that the number of EU governments supporting GM crop authorisations in the appeals committee has gone down, while the number of MEPs supporting the objections has increased over time.

Existing guidance appropriate for gene editing assessment, says EFSA

Genome editing does not pose any additional hazards compared to conventional breeding or other genetic modification methods, meaning that existing guidance is adequate for their assessment, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has concluded.

Despite these objections, the Commission has continued to adopt GM crop authorisations, arguing that their approach “works within the legal framework adopted by the co-legislators, including the European Parliament”.

As such, it is “fulfilling its legal obligations and is proceeding with all the pending applications, which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded to be safe”. 

“The Commission will continue processing the outstanding applications for GM food and feed under existing rules pending a different approach based on sustainability considerations,” the spokesperson said, adding that all GMOs authorised in the EU have received a positive opinion from EFSA, which concluded that they are as safe as their conventional counterparts. 

Tilly Metz, a lead objector for the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, added that these authorisations also have a considerable effect further afield.

In a letter to MEPs in September, the Commission announced it would develop a new approach to the authorisation of GM crops for import “based on sustainability considerations”. However, this is not being upheld, according to Metz. 

“Von der Leyen’s Green Deal Commission continues to authorise genetically modified crops whose cultivation causes environmental devastation in the producer countries, including the destruction of rainforests. It has promised to screen GM crops for their environmental impacts but nothing is happening so far,” she said, adding that this makes the EU “complicit in deforestation”. 

“The EU cannot claim to lead the world on the protection of nature whilst continuing to drive nature destruction outside its borders.” 

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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