Brussels, 11 April 2006 -EU Commissioners will be making a grave mistake, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace warned today, if they ignore the strong criticism levelled by member states on the way GMOs are currently authorised in the EU. The Commission, which has persistently refused to acknowledge any problems in the process, will hold a debate on GMO policy tomorrow, Wednesday 12 April.
"The GMO authorisation process must be halted until it is truly independent and fulfils legal requirements," said Eric Gall of Greenpeace. "The European Commission has ignored the failings of its system for far too long, but must now listen to member states and allow for a stringent, transparent and independent risk evaluation of GMOs."
The Commission's internal discussion follows a public debate in the Environment Council on 9 March, where a vast majority of member states criticised the current GMO authorisation procedures. Member states urged the Commission to improve the implementation of EU GMO legislation and risk evaluation, in particular for long-term effects on health and the environment. They called for more transparency and questioned the appropriateness of using 'comitology procedures' to decide on GMOs, which leave all power to approve them with the Commission even when most EU governments is opposed.
At tomorrow's debate, DG Trade, DG Industry and DG Research are expected to try and prevent a change in Commission policy. Mr Mandelson, Mr Verheugen and Mr Potocnik have previously used the threat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute on GMOs to justify a position in favour of the biotech industry. However, the preliminary ruling of the WTO panel (1) reveals that the panel dismissed many of the claims of the US, Canada and Argentina and, crucially, did not rule on the right of countries to set strict biosafety regulations.
"Nothing in the WTO ruling prevents the Commission from supporting strict rules for the authorisation of genetically modified products, including the evaluation of long-term effects on health and the environment," said Helen Holder of Friends of the Earth Europe. The Commission can no longer use the WTO to justify its automatic approval of all GMOs for the sole benefit of the biotech industry."
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe argue that the legal requirements to evaluate long-term effects of GMOs and to take into account scientific uncertainties and member states' objections have been so far been ignored by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission. GMOs are solely assessed on the basis of data provided by the applicant company, most of which is kept secret as 'confidential business information'. This lack of transparency is in breach of EU law and prevents the public and independent scientists from examining the risks of a GM (genetically modified) product.
(1) Leaked on 28 February by Friends of the Earth, see: http://www.foeeurope.org/biteback/WTO_decision.htm