Environment

'New dawn' for GMOs after EU vote, green groups warn

23.02.11 @ 09:27

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - EU member state experts have voted to allow tiny quantities of unapproved genetically modified crops into the Union in the form of animal feed, prompting fierce condemnation from environmental groups, who say the decision sets a dangerous new precedent.

  • A phosphate plant in Idaho, US, belonging to the GMO firm Monsanto (Photo: arbyreed)

The EU standing committee on Tuesday (22 February) decided to allow a 0.1 percent contamination threshold for unauthorised GMO products in animal feed imports, a measure that industry, exporting states and the European Commission say is necessary to prevent supply disruptions.

Supporters of the move point to rising food prices and the supply chain disruption caused in 2009 when several shipments of US soya beans were impounded due to the discovery of traces of unauthorised genetically modified material.

By allowing trace amounts of unauthorised GMO products in future animal feed imports, the commission aims to prevent a repeat of the 2009 events, allowing feed dealers to commit to expensive shipments with less fear of them being impounded.

The EU livestock industry relies heavily on animal feed produced outside the 27-member bloc, importing 51 million tonnes of feed last year, roughly half of which was authorised genertically modified soya beans from Brazil and Argentina developed by US biotech company Monsanto.

Environment groups say Tuesday's decision, which still needs European Parliament approval, is both unnecessary and dangerous, ending the EU's zero-tolerance policy towards unauthorised GMOs.

"There is no need for this unless you are a shareholder in Monsanto or other US biotech multinationals and you want to expand into Europe," Greenpeace campaigner Mark Breddy told this website. "It's purely commercial pressure and the commission is supporting it."

A similar vote earlier this month failed to garner sufficient support from France and a list of other EU member states, prompting the commission to make changes.

Under the new text, only unauthorised GMO imports with an application pending with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for at least three months will be allowed into the bloc. They must also have been approved in a non-EU country.

"When Europeans come to the United States, they come and enjoy our cuisine with no concerns whatsoever," deputy US trade representative Miriam Sapiro said earlier this month. "We have very strict safety standards ... and I think that alone is good reason to make sure that our products are able to be sold in Europe."

But green groups blasted the changes as "cosmetic", while others said Tuesday's decision did not go far enough. In January, Dutch officials sent a letter to the commission requesting that the proposals be widened to include foodstuffs for direct human consumption.

The issue of GMOs remains highly controversial with European consumers. Supporters argue that engineered food is already eaten safely by billions of people across the globe, while detractors say the long-term effects still remain unknown.

As demand from large emerging countries such as China continues to surge ahead, the area of the world's farm-land used for growing genetically modified crops increased by about 10 percent last year, according to new data published on Tuesday.

The use of genetically modified seeds grew fastest in Brazil but fell in the EU, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Disease resistance and herbicide tolerance were the two engineered traits most frequently sought after.

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