Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Environment ministers agree GMO approval overhaul

EU environment ministers have supported a proposal from France to overhaul Europe's approval process for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (5 June), the ministers decided that the risk assessment procedures within the GMO evaluation and authorisation system needed to be improved and there needs to be a longer-term discussion of their impact on the environment.

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  • Member states have called for a reform of the scientific expertise involved in GMO risk assessment (Photo: Wikipedia)

"The scientific advice provided by the European Food Safety Agency [the body that carries out the evaluation procedure] is of high quality," said European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas speaking to reporters after the meeting.

"However, we need to strengthen EFSA's capacity to evaluate the risks and take into account changes in agricultural practices and local geographic conditions."

"This decision will help decision-making on GMOs," he added.

The member states called for a reform of the scientific expertise involved in GMO risk assessment and for further discussions on the long-term impacts of the controversial agricultural products.

France presented proposals that would see a re-evaluation of the food safety body's expertise, which were accepted unanimously by other environment ministers and supported by the European Commission, the EU's executive body.

An expert group will be formed to develop ideas which will then be considered by a later meeting of environment ministers, either in October or at the end of the year, according to Jean-Louis Borloo the French environment minister.

However, the minister stressed that such a review would not lead to the banning of genetically-modified food.

"Changing the expertise is not saying we want to ban GMOs," he said.

"We want to see their commercialisation – except where the product presents a clear danger to health, following a detailed analysis of the risks," he added.

Mr Dimas also clarified that the meeting had only seen an initial discussion on the matter, saying ministers were at the moment "putting their thoughts on the table," while a more thorough discussion will take place when France takes on the six-month rotating EU presidency in the second half of this year.

The review will, however, likely result in a greater role for member states. "Member states must be more involved and take greater responsibility in assessing the safety of GMOs," said the commissioner.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move, with Greenpeace saying it was glad EU ministers "recognised [the GMO approval process] needs to be repaired."

"It is now clear that the authorisation process must be halted until risk assessment procedures are truly independent and compliant with EU legal requirements," said Marco Contiero, a GMO campaigner with Greenpeace Europe.

The green group, together with partner Friends of the Earth, in May called for EFSA to be reformed, complaining that the agency was understaffed without the appropriate expertise and did not act impartially.

A number of member states have in the past accused EFSA of bias and said it gives the nod to GMOs without the necessary research.

In May, the commission asked EFSA to review three strains of GM products – one potato and two varieties of maize – the third time the EU executive had asked the agency to review them. In previous assessments, EFSA had stated the strains were safe.

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