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11th Apr 2021

Commission tries to revive GMO opt-out proposal

  • 'We cannot go beyond the age of evidence', said the head of the European Food Safety Authority (Photo: Eric Parker)

The European Commission has made one more attempt to convince member states that they should accept its proposal to give national governments the power to ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

But according to an EU source close to the Slovak presidency of the Council, where national governments meet, the file will not be discussed before the end of the year.

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Last week, the commission sent the council a confidential document that analysed the legal implications of the proposal, something which the member states were missing when it was tabled in April 2015.

The plan would give national governments the power to ban the use of GMOs as ingredients in human food and animal food, even if the European Food Safety Authority had given its stamp of approval.

But when agriculture ministers discussed the plan in July 2015, they heavily criticised the proposal, calling it “not useful” and “unworkable”.

In October 2015, the European Parliament flat-out rejected the proposal. Without support in both the parliament and the council, it cannot be adopted as law.

Since then, the file has laid still in the legislative plumbing, waiting either for the commission to pull the plug, or the council to come to a common position.

The EU source said the file is not on the agenda for next week's agriculture ministerial meeting, but that the institution's civil servants are “scrutinising” the commission's paper.

“I think we will not cover it during the Slovak presidency. It is quite feasible that there is no time to go through it,” the source said.

A second source said that the council currently had “no timetable for a possible technical examination of the paper”.

The commission had hoped that its plan would break the traditional deadlock which occurs when member states vote on whether or not to authorise the use of a GMO.

The issue is so culturally determined, that member states rarely reach a majority view, with votes in favour, against, and abstentions split three-ways.

The deadlock then results in a “no opinion” from the member states, leaving it to the commission to take the decision to authorise the GMO in question - and to receive the flak from the GMO-sceptic parts of European society.

European Food Safety Authority

The commission bases its decision on scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority, whose executive director Bernhard Url visited Brussels on Tuesday (6 December).

He told EUobserver the deadlock is not of concern to his agency.

“That happens after we have given our scientific opinion,” Url said in an interview.

“It is a political decision-making process that may be efficient or not, it's not for me to judge that. We produce the best available science and then policy steps in.”

Url said that he did not feel that some member states' reluctance to authorise GMOs, even if they have Efsa's approval, are undermining his agency's authority.

However, he did note that it was important that Efsa's scientific process was recognised as independent.

“If we come with a scientific opinion, let's say on a GMO or on glyphosate, which parts of the European Parliament do not like because it does not fit to their political agenda, what I would like to achieve is that they say: 'OK, I don't like the outcome of your opinion, but I trust the process'.”

Url also said it was “dangerous” if scientific evidence would be viewed as “just a scientific opinion, not more”.

“We cannot go beyond the age of evidence. We'd go back to the Middle Ages,” he said.

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.

GMO opt-out plan remains in waiting room

The commission wants to give the power to member states to reject EU-approved genetically modified organisms, but the Maltese presidency is unlikely to approach the issue any time soon.

Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs

The European Commission and the EU's national governments pass each other the buck on who should move first on a heavily-criticised proposal on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

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