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19th Jan 2019

GMO opt-out plan remains in waiting room

A proposal to give member states the power to ban the use of genetically modified ingredients in food will likely stay stuck in a legislative limbo for several months.

The Maltese presidency has not planned the proposal to be discussed by agriculture ministers, whose approval is required for the plan to become law.

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  • Parts of civil society do not trust the scientific assessments that say GMO crops are as safe as non-GMO crops. (Photo: M Shields Photography)

Malta holds the rotating presidency of the council, where national governments meet, until 30 June 2017.

A source close to the presidency said, “there is quite some legislative work in the pipeline, so we will focus our energy on where we will see potential to move things forward”.

It will be the two-year anniversary of the European Commission's still to be finalised proposal during the Maltese presidency, although there is little to celebrate.

The commission announced the idea in April 2015, as a way to break the ideological deadlock that exists in Europe over the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in human and animal food products.

It wants to give member states the power to ban the use of GMO types, even if that GMO had received an EU-wide stamp of approval by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) agency.

The commission had hoped the opt-out option would entice member states with an anti-GMO view to drop their opposition during votes on approving GMOs.

The outcome of these votes is nearly always the same, roughly a third of member states is in favour of following EFSA's scientific advice, a third votes against, and a third abstains.

As a result of the repeating deadlock the decision to approve GMOs falls on the commission, which in turn takes the blame from anti-GMO groups.

But at a meeting in July 2015, agriculture ministers heavily criticised the commission's plan as unworkable.

Some months later the European Parliament, whose consent is also needed, flat-out rejected the whole plan and called on the commission to withdraw it.

However, the EU's executive has made another attempt to convince national governments, sending them a legal study showing why it would work.

According to the presidency source, technical civil servants will look at the study, although their assessment needs to be finished first.

“We want to make sure the process is exhausted at a technical level before bringing the matter to the ministers for a final crystallisation,” the contact said.

“We would like to avoid the situation where discussions within the council will focus on technical aspects.”

Another diplomatic source explained to EUobserver in 2015 why member states are not keen on accepting the commission's solution.

The source, from an anti-GMO member state, said “we have found somebody else to actually take the decision. The commission over the years has been getting all the flak”.

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

Brussels wants EU states to share flak for GMO approvals

European Commission proposes changes to the little-known but often used comitology procedure, which results in deadlocks whenever controversial issues like genetically modified organisms are on the table.

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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