19th Jan 2020

Austrian presidency fails to stop GMO approvals

Austria's attempt at putting the thorny issue of genetically modified crops high on the EU agenda during its presidency failed as EU environment ministers only "exchanged views" at their last meeting before Finland takes over the rotating leadership.

Austria is one of the staunchest opponents of GM technology in the EU and is sticking to its own ban on modified plants within its territory.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Austria is one of the staunchest opponents of GM technology in the EU (Photo: EUobserver)

Finland has no intention of discussing the issue during their six-month presidency starting next week, an EU official said.

The alpine country held a series of debates on the issue but these did not lead to any conclusions on GMOs in the EU at the last environment council under the Austrian presidency on Tuesday (27 June) in Luxembourg.

Greenpeace urged environment ministers to stop GMO authorisations and to develop instead detailed and legally binding procedures to ensure a proper evaluation of risks to health and biodiversity.

"Greenpeace urges Environment ministers to do their job, which is to ensure that the protection of the environment and public health are put ahead of the financial interests of a handful of agro-chemical companies," said Greenpeace campaigner Christoph Then in a statement.

European food security agency

The Austrian presidency noted that the ministers also exchanged views on the much criticised European Food Security Agency (EFSA) which plays a key role in the approval of new GMOs considered for cultivation or sale on the European market.

"It ignores major safety concerns raised across Europe and appears to protect the biotech industry rather then the public," said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth.

He said even the European Commission did not know whether GM foods will cause allergies or cancer in the long term and what impacts on the environment of growing GM crops are.

Friends of the Earth Europe insists that member states, and not the Parma-based EU agency, should set the safety standards needed to protect their environment, farming industry and public from GM foods and crops.

Groups representing the European biotech industry, say EU member states and scientific bodies are already communicating closely with EFSA and that conclusions are based on scientific studies accepted worldwide.

But member states have so far never been able to agree on GMOs, which leaves it up to the commission to make the decision instead - the commission has so far approved all eight of them.

Five biotech food products are currently in the pipeline for approval by the commission for cultivation or sale, after member states could not agree on the GMOs, according to the executive office.

"We have bought together an overview of all EFSA GMO activities and outlined some new initiatives aimed at further developing and enhancing our co-operation," said the head of EFSA, Herman Koeter.

One EU official said it "does seem like EFSA recognises it could work better with member states' own food security agencies."

Flood risk prevention

While stuck on the GMO authorisations environment minister's agreed unanimously at the meeting to endorse a plan to combat floods.

EU member states will be required to identifying risk areas by 2012, which will be mapped out a year later, while flood risk management plans are set to be created by 2015.

The environment ministers also rubber-stamped draft regulation for the new and controversial EU chemicals law, REACH, which environmental and consumer groups fear is not enough to protect people and the environment from toxic chemicals.

Austrian environment minister Josef Proll said EU ministers had also agreed by a qualified majority to a new air quality directive. But the formal decision will only be taken in July because the European Parliament has postponed its first reading of the directive.

EU member states divided on GM products

Member states remain divided on the contentious issue of genetically modified products despite an end to the bloc's moratorium two years ago.


Davos and Libya in focus This WEEK

The all-powerful will meet in Davos after Berlin tries to resolve the Libyan conflict over the weekend, while MEPs will set the stage for final ratification of the Brexit deal.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.


Why EU subsidy schemes don't work - the evidence

Counter to popular beliefs among policymakers, the positive effects of support schemes are found to be very limited. In order to revitalise Europe, the newly appointed EU Commission needs to reconsider government's role in innovation and entrepreneurship.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Boost for Right in post-Brexit EU parliament

The far-right Identity and Democracy will overtake the Greens as the fourth-largest party in the European Parliament on 1 February, after the UK's MEPs vacate their seats.


Why EU minimum wage is actually bad idea for workers

As president of one of the largest trade union confederations in the EU, I see the need for good working conditions and decent pay in all member states - but an EU-wide minimum wage could be used to lower wages.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us