Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

EU states prefer to 'blame Brussels' on GMOs

  • Human injection of new genome into maize (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission wants to give national governments the power to ban food with genetically modified (GM) ingredients, but diplomatic sources indicate governments will kindly refuse the offer.

One EU source from an anti-GM country told this website opponents prefer the current system because they can “blame Brussels” for authorising the use of GM foods.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Another source said: “The initial reactions to the commission's proposal were sceptical”, adding that both pro-GM and anti-GM member states expressed negative views.

So far, not even one member state seems to have embraced the plan, which would give countries the possibility to ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, even if it has already been approved on an EU-wide level.

So why are national governments refusing power?

One reason is that there are concerns over how it could be implemented.

A ban on GMOs in food, if a country would choose to exercise one, would only be on its use, not on its importation. Because of single market rules, genetically modified ingredients, or food made with GMOs, cannot be stopped at a national border.

“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”, a Polish diplomatic source told this website shortly after the commission published its proposal in April.

As things stand, GMOs can only be used in food (both human and animal food) if they are first authorised at EU level.

After a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), EU member states are also asked to provide an opinion.

But GMOs are a highly divisive issue, and there are, roughly speaking, three groups of EU countries.

One group is “utterly, totally, radically, irrevocably, irretrievably opposed to anything that looks, sounds, moves, smells like a GMO”, according to the EU diplomat from an anti-GMO country. The second group bases its position on the scientific assessment by EFSA and almost always votes to approve, while the third group always abstains.

A qualified majority, needed for an official position on behalf of the member states, is hardly ever reached.

“Member states could not draw the line between Yes or No for GMOs, de facto leaving it to the commission to decide”, food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said in a speech in the European Parliament on Monday (8 June).

Because all the commission has to base its decision on is the positive assessment by EFSA, it approves the GMO.

Blame Brussels

“From the member states' point of view, it's absolutely marvellous … brilliant”, said the diplomatic source.

“We have found somebody else to actually take the decision. The commission over the years has been getting all the flak”, he noted.

Governments of countries where the population is against use of GMOs “can go back home and say: ‘We were fiercely against. Irresponsible! Nasty technocrats, how could they?’.”

“I've always wondered how we managed to get the commission to agree to such a system in the first place. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Now they are sick and tired of the blame every time. ... It's the proverbial hot potato. Any volunteers for a hot potato?”, noted the EU diplomat.

For his part, Andriukaitis said Monday the “status quo is not sustainable” and invited “everyone to take their responsibilities”.

But according to EU sources, it will be “extremely difficult” to get the necessary approval for the new plan from member states. The only agreement so far “is that everybody is against it”.

Renationalisation

In the European Parliament too, critical questions were aimed at the proposal.

Two of the political groups who might have been the most obvious candidates in favour, spoke out against the idea last Friday (5 June).

“It's a good thing that there is, let's say, a possibility to ban GMOs, but we are in favour of having European legislation on this. ... We would like to have European rules and not a renationalisation”, said Greens spokesperson Ruth Reichstein.

The centre-right ECR group, which includes the British Conservatives, and could be expected to support 'renationalisation' of powers, was also critical, but for different reasons.

It criticised the fact, that under the plan, countries would be able to provide non-scientific reasons for banning the use of a GMO.

“Whilst measures to decentralise the process could be welcome, that should still be based on scientific principles and not on voodoo science”, said James Holtum.

Agriculture ministers are meeting next Tuesday (16 June), but according to a source from Latvia, which will chair the meeting, the “very sensitive issue” will not be discussed due to a “full agenda”.

The next opportunity will be a meeting on 13 July.

EU to return GMO powers to states

The EU commission has proposed giving member states the power to ban the use of GMOs in human and animal food products, but there are already concerns about whether the plans are workable.

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.

Agriculture MEPs call for rejection of GMO plan

A majority in the agriculture committee voted “to propose rejection of the Commission proposal” that would give member states the power to ban the use of genetically modified food.

MEPs reject Commission plan on GMO opt-outs

Food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis failed to convince the European Parliament. 579 of 751 MEPs voted to ask the Commission to withdraw the legislative proposal, which it refused to do.

News in Brief

  1. EU investigating BMW, Daimler and VW 'collusion'
  2. Spain wants special Gibraltar chapter in Brexit deal
  3. Italy cancels Vienna talks over South Tyrol 'dual citizenship'
  4. Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border
  5. Slovakia seeks witness to journalist killing
  6. Finland's Stubb considers running for EU commission job
  7. Romania ponders anti same-sex marriage referendum
  8. EU lawyers back Slovenia in Croatia border dispute

Focus

EU-China cooperation on CO2 storage lost in limbo

A long-standing cooperation between the EU and China on carbon capture and storage has fallen off the political agenda – with the European Commission not having any comment available when asked for an update.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  2. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  3. New book: Why war is coming
  4. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  5. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful
  6. 10 years after Lehman Brothers what has changed for EU consumers?
  7. Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president
  8. Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us