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17th Apr 2021

EU to return GMO powers to states

  • How will member states be able to ban GM foods if EU internal market rules do not allow them to stop goods at the border? (Photo: janandersen_dk)

The EU commission on Wednesday (22 April) proposed giving member states the power to ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in human and animal food products, but there are already concerns about whether the plans are workable.

Food products with genetically modified ingredients need approval from the EU before they can be put on the market, but the commission said it wants countries to be able to restrict or altogether prohibit a GM product, even if it has the required EU-wide stamp of approval.

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EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager presented the proposal noting that countries that want to “opt out” of allowing a GM product on their national market “will have to be careful”.

“They will have to justify their opt-out measures that they are motivated by a general, and overriding reason of general interest, and are in line with the rules of internal market, with the EU institutional framework, and with of course also international obligations”, she said.

Because the EU has a single internal market, a member state may not simply close its border to a GM product.

Member states will be responsible for enforcing their bans, but they “should not stop the free movement throughout the Union”, an official from the commission told journalists Wednesday.

“We are speaking about the use, not about the movement or transit of these goods.”

Complicated to enforce

That means that countries would have to find a way of enforcing the ban by detecting the GM in products that are on the market.

The official acknowledged that enforcement would be “a challenge” for those member states.

Some have already expressed dissatisfaction.

“There will be no way to protect our country from GMOs without breaking the EU's basic rules”, a Polish diplomat told this website.

“This proposal is putting all the weight on the member states to decide, but is not giving us the tools to enforce, without breaking the internal market rules. The logic is fine, but the tools are lacking.”

Reasoning - another grey area

Another open question is what justification will be accepted as well-motivated. The commission has already made clear that reasons related to health and safety issues will not apply.

That can be understood as not wanting to cast doubt on the scientific assessment made by the EU's European Food Safety Authority.

“The issues related to the risks for health and environment are assessed according to the best available science, by a scientific body which was agreed within the European context”, the EU source said, adding “we strongly believe there is only one science”.

When pressed to give “concrete examples” of acceptable reasons, the official said: “Some of them may be the socio-economic impact, the agricultural policy objectives, the public policy.”

The commission's proposal on GM products follows recently adopted legislation on cultivation of GM crops on EU soil, and takes those rules as a model. No country has adopted a cultivation ban yet under the rules, which were put in place only earlier this month.

Both industry and NGOs against

Both NGOs and industry and have criticised the plan.

“Can you make it legally solid in a way that it's not going to be challenged by the GM companies? We haven't seen the experience with the cultivation bans. … This is going to be even more difficult”, said Greenpeace food campaigner Franziska Achterberg.

The proposal “would appear to turn the clock back on the internal market”, said Jonathan Ramsay, spokesperson for Monsanto, one of the largest companies known for its GM seeds.

Biotechnology lobby group EuropaBio, of which Monsanto is a member, urged the commission to withdraw the proposal.

Unlike seeds for cultivation, which are used in the EU on a small scale, the EU annually imports over 30 million tonnes of GM soymeal and soybeans used to feed livestock.

“Undermining this well-established and successful trade risks real damage to jobs, growth and confidence in Europe as a place to do business”, EuropaBio said.

The proposal needs approval from the member states and the European parliament before it can be adopted as law.

EU to give countries greater powers on GM food

The European Commission wants to give individual member states the power to ban food products made from genetically modified organisms, even if those GM foods have been given an EU-wide stamp of approval.

EU agriculture ministers pummel GMO opt-out plan

The EU commission wants to give countries the power to ban GMOs. “It's not useful, it's impracticable, and it's likely to bring a large majority against it”, was one reaction.

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