Monday

30th Mar 2020

'New dawn' for GMOs after EU vote, green groups warn

  • A phosphate plant in Idaho, US, belonging to the GMO firm Monsanto (Photo: arbyreed)

EU member state experts have voted to allow tiny quantities of unapproved genetically modified crops into the Union in the form of animal feed, prompting fierce condemnation from environmental groups, who say the decision sets a dangerous new precedent.

The EU standing committee on Tuesday (22 February) decided to allow a 0.1 percent contamination threshold for unauthorised GMO products in animal feed imports, a measure that industry, exporting states and the European Commission say is necessary to prevent supply disruptions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Supporters of the move point to rising food prices and the supply chain disruption caused in 2009 when several shipments of US soya beans were impounded due to the discovery of traces of unauthorised genetically modified material.

By allowing trace amounts of unauthorised GMO products in future animal feed imports, the commission aims to prevent a repeat of the 2009 events, allowing feed dealers to commit to expensive shipments with less fear of them being impounded.

The EU livestock industry relies heavily on animal feed produced outside the 27-member bloc, importing 51 million tonnes of feed last year, roughly half of which was authorised genertically modified soya beans from Brazil and Argentina developed by US biotech company Monsanto.

Environment groups say Tuesday's decision, which still needs European Parliament approval, is both unnecessary and dangerous, ending the EU's zero-tolerance policy towards unauthorised GMOs.

"There is no need for this unless you are a shareholder in Monsanto or other US biotech multinationals and you want to expand into Europe," Greenpeace campaigner Mark Breddy told this website. "It's purely commercial pressure and the commission is supporting it."

A similar vote earlier this month failed to garner sufficient support from France and a list of other EU member states, prompting the commission to make changes.

Under the new text, only unauthorised GMO imports with an application pending with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for at least three months will be allowed into the bloc. They must also have been approved in a non-EU country.

"When Europeans come to the United States, they come and enjoy our cuisine with no concerns whatsoever," deputy US trade representative Miriam Sapiro said earlier this month. "We have very strict safety standards ... and I think that alone is good reason to make sure that our products are able to be sold in Europe."

But green groups blasted the changes as "cosmetic", while others said Tuesday's decision did not go far enough. In January, Dutch officials sent a letter to the commission requesting that the proposals be widened to include foodstuffs for direct human consumption.

The issue of GMOs remains highly controversial with European consumers. Supporters argue that engineered food is already eaten safely by billions of people across the globe, while detractors say the long-term effects still remain unknown.

As demand from large emerging countries such as China continues to surge ahead, the area of the world's farm-land used for growing genetically modified crops increased by about 10 percent last year, according to new data published on Tuesday.

The use of genetically modified seeds grew fastest in Brazil but fell in the EU, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Disease resistance and herbicide tolerance were the two engineered traits most frequently sought after.

GMO maize vote highlights 'absurd' EU rules

The EU commission is set to authorise the cultivation of a genetically modified maize crop, despite opposition from 19 countries: Critics say it showcases "absurd" EU voting rules.

EU imposes stiff controls to block Chinese GM rice

EU member states have slapped rigid new controls on all imports of Chinese rice products in the wake of ever-increasing detection of products 'contaminated' with unauthorised genetically modified rice.

Warning of agricultural 'digital arms race' in EU

Europe is on the verge of allowing centralisation and concentration of farming data at an unprecedented scale, with the absence of any regulation, NGO Friends of the Earth have warned.

What will Brexit mean for climate action in EU and UK?

The UK is leaving the EU after playing a key role in climate action - just as COP26 comes to Glasgow. With so many policy negotiations ahead, a split between London and Brussels post-Brexit could undermine the 2050 emissions-neutrality goal.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

What will Brexit mean for climate action in EU and UK?

The UK is leaving the EU after playing a key role in climate action - just as COP26 comes to Glasgow. With so many policy negotiations ahead, a split between London and Brussels post-Brexit could undermine the 2050 emissions-neutrality goal.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU struggles to remain united This WEEK
  2. How Europe coped with pandemic 100 years ago
  3. Coronavirus crisis deepens, but solidarity booms
  4. Romania: Inside the EU's worst healthcare system, as virus hits
  5. Pandemic is time to recognise gig economy workers' rights
  6. EU doctors: bring refugees on Greek islands to safety
  7. Russia's top coronavirus 'fake news' stories
  8. WHO warning on lockdown mental health

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us