France seeks solution to EU GMO deadlock

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Environment ministers will meet today to discuss French proposals to overcome the loopholes in the EU’s decision-making process on granting market authorisation to GM crops.

Today’s discussions follow a Commission debate, held on 7 May 2008, that took stock of the Council’s current inability to take decisions on authorising new GM crops (see EURACTIV 08/05/08).

The discussion will be held at the request of France based on a dossier prepared by French officials. The objective is to consider ways to solve the current deadlock in the Council and make product approvals or rejection easier. 

France’s aim is also to prepare a potential high-level ministerial discussion on the issue to be held during the French EU Presidency starting on 1 July 2008. The objective, according to French officials, is “to find pragmatic solutions without calling everything into question”. 

France will today propose improvements to the decision-making process on GMOs on four areas:

  • Environmental impact assessment of GM crops, including toxicity of pesticide-producing GMOs and of their effects on non-targeted species; 
  • improving the work of scientific expertise involved in the risk assessment procedure by, for example, asking the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to take better into account the opinions of national competent authorities;
  • establishing thresholds for GM contamination in seeds, to guarantee continuity of activities of GMO-free actors;
  • further studies about member states’ right to regulate the cultivation of approved GM crops and closer cooperation with EFSA on specific arrangements regarding special ecosystems, such as agricultural systems or geographical areas. 

The upcoming French Presidency hopes to continue the debate started by Austria (see EURACTIV 10/03/06) in 2006 to determine whether EFSA is sufficiently equipped to make scientific counter-evaluations of safety assessment dossiers provided by industry. The risk assessment dossiers provided by the biotech industry are, according to a French official, often “very heavy” and “difficult to check”.

Earlier this year, France invoked an EU safeguard clause and suspended the marketing and growth on its territory of an EU-authorised GM crop, citing new scientific evidence on a negative impact of the crops on flora and fauna.

Several other EU member states have repeatedly criticised EFSA for pro-GMO bias and say it has approved GM products without proper research. Both the special regulatory procedure and the role of EFSA have been the subject of criticism (see EURACTIV 05/12/05 and 10/03/06), and the Commission decided in 2006 that some practical changes were needed to improve EFSA’s GMO-approval process (see EURACTIV 12/04/06). 

In May 2008, the Commission referred, for the first time ever, a number of pending GMO approvals back to EFSA for further review of scientific evidence of their potential effects on the environment and human health.

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