Food Law News - EU - 2010

EP News Item, 14 September 2010

GMOs – EP Environment Committee quizzes Dalli on new GM proposals

On Tuesday, hours after announcing new proposals which would grant Member States the right to decide individually whether to allow cultivation of genetically-modified crops, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner John Dalli discussed the implications with the EP Environment Committee.

Commissioner Dalli outlined to MEPs the proposal for a new article to be added to existing GM crop legislation, which would allow Member States greater flexibility to allow, restrict or ban GM cultivation. The change will have to be approved by both Parliament and Council. He also set out non-legislative measures including on tolerance levels of ‘coexistence’ or contamination of GM strains in conventional or organic crops, as well as promising further monitoring of crops that have been approved.

The right (not) to grow

Under the proposals, GM crops would continue to require approval at EU level on health and environmental grounds.  Only if they pass this stage, can Member States decide whether to allow, restrict or ban their cultivation at national level.

Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (S&D, DE) welcomed the proposal as “in line with reality”, since several Member States already restrict cultivation through a safeguard clause in existing EU rules. The proposal would give a sounder legal basis for this choice, argued Mr Dalli, adding that public opposition or protecting the organic farming sector would be among valid reasons that could be cited.

Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, PT) was among those fearing that decisions made on this basis may not stand up to a legal challenge, for example by the WTO. She commented “We don’t know if the guarantees are sufficient”.

While Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR) and others were disappointed that health and environment grounds could not be cited, the Commissioner for his part stressed his view that these criteria should only apply in the EU-level authorisation procedure.

Françoise Grossetête (EPP, FR) warned that entrenching differences in Member State policies could lead to “distortions in the market”, while Pilar Ayuso (EPP, ES) added that the EU could not pretend to be a “bubble” against GMOs at the cost of farmers, especially considering its large-scale importation of GM feed.

No deal for quicker EU authorisations

Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, FI) said, “We know the proposal is intended to open up authorisations for a long list of other GM crops”. Commissioner Dalli had authorised the first GM cultivation in 12 years earlier in March but he denied an agenda to speed up further approvals. He insisted the proposals were “not a trade off” and guaranteed that there would be “no dilution” of the EU process.

MEPs nevertheless pointed to weaknesses in the current system. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) came under some criticism, even if Renate Sommer (EPP, DE) suggested Member States tend to use criticism of the agency as a “smokescreen” and Environment Committee Chair Jo Leinen (S&D, DE) stressed that the independence of the agency’s judgement should not be in question. Commissioner Dalli promised to return to the committee later in the year to discuss improvements that could be made to the overall process.

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