GM Free Cymru


Press Notice from GM-Free Cymru 4th June 2010

GM watchdog groups have issued a stark warning about the European Commission's "hidden agenda" which lies behind the current overhaul of the European GM approvals system.

For some months it has been apparent that the Commission has been working on plans for "unblocking" the approvals system, in order to appease the United States government and the WTO. Following earlier promises from President Barroso and Commissioner John Dalli, plans have now been announced which will allow European countries to ban GM crops from being grown within their territories, as requested by Austria, Netherlands and other countries. Countries will also be allowed to set their own technical standards for GM farming, for example involving buffer zones between GM and non-GM plantings. Legislative changes will be required to Directive 2001/18, and procedures to achieve this are now being put in place. The Commission wants a decision implementing the proposals on 13th July 2010. Coexistence Guidelines (currently "in the pipeline" for implementing legislation in many European countries) will immediately be relaxed, and greater autonomy on coexistence will be allowed.

These changes, if implemented, will be of immediate benefit to the GM multinationals, who will press for great increases in GM plantings in "friendly" countries including Spain, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Inevitably, there will also be massive diplomatic pressure and even and commercial blackmail in the "accession" countries of the Eastern European bloc which will lead to many illegal GM plantings where inadequate GM control mechanisms are in place.

Superficially, the EC proposals look attractive to those countries which have traditionally opposed GM or where there is strong public antipathy towards the technology. National or regional GM bans, demanded for many years, can now become reality. However, NGOs are warning that chaos might ensue, with likely cross-contamination between regions and across national frontiers, with a very inadequate liability / compensation framework in place. FoE Europe (2) has already demanded that measures must be brought in to guarantee that the biotech industry pays for any economic, health or environmental damage resulting from GM cultivation.

Now GM-Free Cymru has warned that the Commission's key objective in this exercise is to achieve faster and simpler GM approvals, as demanded by the GM multinationals, the Americans and the WTO. EC officials have denied many times that they are seeking to put in place a "fast-track" assessments and approvals system for GM crops and foods -- but it has been obvious for many months that they have been laying the ground very carefully. In January 2010, without any announcement in the press or any statement within Europe, the Commission placed a "Draft Implementing Regulation" for GM assessments and approvals procedures onto the WTO website (3), accompanied by an announcement that it would be signed off in May and implemented in June 2010. This Draft Regulation was based on EFSA's own Guidelines, which have been discussed and approved by member states over a period of two years or so. The "consultation" on these guidelines has been less than adequate, and while the process has been promoted by EFSA and the EC as "tightening up" the GMO assessment and approvals process, it does exactly the opposite. In fact, there are such large scientific and safety concerns about the revised powers being given to EFSA that a group of scientists sent a formal letter of complaint on 22 February 2010 to both the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Council (4). This complaint has not been acted on.

Speaking for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "We have every reason to mistrust both the Commission and EFSA on this issue. In spite of promises to reform EFSA and to reduce its powers (following the Environment Council of 4th December 2008) (5) nothing effective has been done to address the concerns of member states, consumer groups and NGOs about the corruption inherent in the GM assessment and approvals system. Instead of having its wings clipped, EFSA has now managed to get approval for Guidelines which it wrote for itself (which breaks one of the essential rules relating to the powers of the politicians versus those of the executive); and it has managed to bamboozle the Parliament and the member states into believing that its procedures are being tightened. In fact, unless Parliament wakes up and puts a stop to this nonsense, EFSA will emerge with unprecedented power for the exclusive assessment of GM applications and for the issuing of a flood of fast-track approvals, many of them based simply upon the scantiest of scientific evidence and upon assumptions of safety. EFSA's GMO Panel is today unfit for purpose, just as it was in 2008 (6).

"This is a major scandal -- and if it is not dealt with, the health implications for the people of Europe may be catastrophic."


Contact: Dr Brian John GM-Free Cymru Tel 01239-820470




(3) crnattachments/2010/tbt/eec/ 10_0030_00_e.pdf Draft implementing regulation waters down safety assessments of GM products

(4) Formal Protest from Scientists: Commission Regulation on Implementing Rules for GM applications and assessments

(5) EU MINISTERS AGREE TO MUCH TIGHTER GM CONTROLS ** More devolution of decision-making ** Curtailment of EFSA powers article-177557

(6) Petition to the European Parliament: EFSA and the food safety rights of citizens Greenpeace calls on Commission to shut down EFSA GMO panel, 31 October 2008: EFSA's revolving door to biotech industry unacceptable - NGOs file complaints to EU Ombudsman and Commission 24 March 2010 doors-complaint-filed EU debates
changes to GM approval rules EFSA came under intense criticism from Environment Council ministers on 9th March 2006:

--------------------------------- EU to overhaul GM crop approval system ----------------------------------------------

By Charlie Dunmore and Julien Toyer

* EU exec tables plan to unblock GM approvals in Europe * Countries to be free to choose whether to grow or ban GM * Proposals likely to spark sharp growth in EU plantings * New rules expected in place by mid-July, but face hurdles

BRUSSELS, June 4 (Reuters) - The European Union is to radically overhaul its approval system for genetically modified (GM) crops from next month, opening the way to large-scale GM cultivation in Europe, EU sources said on Friday. With most Europeans showing no appetite for GM produce in food, EU politicians have approved just two varieties for growing in 12 years, compared to more than 150 worldwide. Under proposals due to be adopted on 13 July, the EU executive Commission will be given greater freedom to approve new GM varieties for cultivation in return for letting EU governments decide whether or not to grow them. "The idea is to maintain an EU-level approval system, but then leave member states totally free to decide whether or not they want to grow," an EU source familiar with the proposals told Reuters. Commercial GM planting in Europe last year covered less than 100,000 hectares, mostly in Spain, compared to 134 million hectares globally. The plan would allow large-scale commercial planting in pro-GM countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, while legally endorsing existing GM bans in countries including Italy, Austria, and Hungary. But critics say the proposals could spark internal market disputes within Europe, and leave the EU open to legal challenges in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which largely backed a U.S. complaint in 2006 that the EU's GM policy was unscientific. The new rules were drawn up by Maltese Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli, who caused controversy in March by approving cultivation of a GM potato used in starch production. The plans are based on a joint Austrian Dutch proposal, which European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso pledged to implement last year as part of his bid for reappointment.

TWIN-TRACK APPROACH The Commission proposal has two main elements, several sources familiar with the details confirmed. The first is a "fast-track" approach, which will see the Commission issue new guidelines to member states on the "coexistence" of GM and non-GM cultivation. These would allow countries to set their own technical standards for GM farming, for example requiring buffer zones of 10 km (6.2 miles) between GM and non-GM fields, which would in effect rule out GM cultivation in entire regions and countries. The second is a "restricted amendment" to current EU legislation on the release of GM organisms in the environment, that would allow countries to ban GM cultivation altogether for reasons other than safety or coexistence grounds. The legislative change would have to be agreed by a qualified majority of EU governments and the European Parliament under the EU's system of weighted voting. If the debate cannot be limited to this one change alone as the Commission hopes, it could mean two or more years of complex political argument before a decision is reached. But with the possibility of cultivation bans already in place because of the guidelines, the EU executive is confident it can win majority support, an EU source said. When contacted by Reuters, a spokesman for Dalli refused to confirm the details of the plan, but said the commissioner had previously given his backing to the idea and promised to table proposals before the summer. "Above all he wants to ensure that market operators have a clear legal base," the spokesman said.

OPPONENTS SHARE CONCERNS "These proposals are legally questionable, contrary to the single market and will sow deep division between the member states," said an industry source who is familiar with the plan but asked not to be named. The move could open new European markets for biotech companies such as Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, and Syngenta. Environmental campaigners who were briefed on the proposal by the Commission on Thursday said it confirmed Barroso's intention to promote GM cultivation in Europe. "Although we welcome the move to allow countries to ban GM crops, it is being pushed to unblock the approvals process and allow more GM crops to be grown," said Adrian Bebb, food and agriculture campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The public and environment will only be protected if the Commission's proposal is backed up by Europe-wide measures to prevent our food and feed from being contaminated. Until then we need an immediate ban on growing GM crops," he added.