Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

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.

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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.

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