26th Aug 2019

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.

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  • 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.

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