GM Free Cymru


** More devolution of decision-making
** Curtailment of EFSA powers

Press Release from GM Free Cymru 5th December 2008

At yesterday's meeting of the EU Environment Ministers, the member states sent an unequivocal message to the Commission and to EFSA, its advisory body: there must be a dramatic improvement in the way in which GMO risks to health and the environment are assessed.

Prior to the meeting, there were signs that the UK and Germany were planning to wreck the emerging consensus across Europe. However, after a massive lobbying campaign across Europe, with 70,000 messages sent to EU politicians and 3,000 more messages sent in 48 hours to German and UK ministers, they backed off and agreed to a form of words that acceded to most of the demands of the GMO "sceptics."

The agreed words of the statement are -- as ever -- couched in diplomatic terms, and are in many cases open to interpretation; but NGOs and consumer will take great heart from the following key components of the document:

1. There is a re-statement of the precautionary principle as a guiding principle in GMO assessments. This was undoubtedly insisted upon by many nations who had perceived a gradual replacement of the principle (in countries including the UK) by the "anti-precautionary principle."

2. There is to be a strengthening of the environmental impact assessment for GMOs and a strengthening of monitoring requirements.

3. There will be more emphasis on the consequences of use of herbicides and on the indirect effects of using herbicide-tolerant GM varieties. This is in line with the recent tightening of rules within the EU on the use of agricultural chemicals. Most important, the Ministers said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated Iin the assessment and approval process) in the same way as chemical pesticides.

4. Member states, competent authorities and EFSA will in future have the right to make specific assessments of the impacts of GMOs in specific geographical areas / ecological niches.

5. Responding to the new research on damaging health effects associated with GM varieties, Ministers are now demanding that if new information becomes available with regard to the risk of the GMOs to human health, the competent authority must prepare an assessment report and indicate how the conditions of the consent should be revised or the consent terminated.

6. There must be a harmonisation of assessment procedures between states. This means that those countries where GMO assessment procedures are lax or non-existent must get themselves organized.

7. For the first time, there is to be a role for independent scientists, scientific organizations and NGOs in the GMO assessment process. An important role is accepted for organizations related to ecological issues. There must also be effective coordination and cooperation between scientists.

8. For the first time, socio-economic effects arising from the cultivation and / or marketing of GMOs are to be considered as relevant to the assessment process.

9. It looks as if (without actually saying so) EFSA'a powers are substantially reduced, and it is instructed to revise its GMO assessment procedures by 2010. Henceforth there will be a key role for member states, including states other than the applicant state.

10. The member states are also given a greater role in GM monitoring where crops are grown. This means that monitoring procedures can in themselves be published and used as "disincentives" for potential GM growers.

11. There will be greater protection from GMOs for special areas -- National Parks and other protected or designated areas like SSSIs. There is to be scope for the declaration of GM Free Zones coinciding with these protected areas.

12. The Ministers insist on a massive reform of the secretive and corrupt assessment process as currently operated by EFSA. Member States and the Commission must henceforth ensure that systematic and independent research is conducted on the potential risks involved in the marketing and growing of GMOs. The necessary resources should be secured for such research by the Community and Member States. Most importantly, independent researchers must be given access to all relevant dossier material, while respecting intellectual property rights. Finally, Member States and the Commission must collect and exchange information on this research.

13. On the matter of the "adventitious presence" of GMOs in organic or conventional crops or products, thresholds must now be set at the lowest practicable, proportionate and functional levels so as to ensure freedom of choice to producers and consumers of conventional, organic and GM products alike. The thresholds must take account of the most recent scientific observations and information on dispersal, adventitious presence and mixing in the process of breeding, multiplication, marketing and using seeds.

14. Finally, regions and local communities will henceforth have the right to declare GM-Free zones.

Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said "These measures, which the Commission and EFSA will now have to accept, represent a fantastic step forward in protecting the environment and the health of consumers. We were seriously worried that the UK, in pursuit of its insane pro-GM agenda, would seek to wreck the emerging consensus in Europe on tighter GM controls, but in the event it appears that common sense has prevailed. NGOs and consumer groups across Europe had mobilized their supporters in advance of yesterday's meeting, and individual pleas to Ministers must have had some effect. But in the light of the recent research linking actual harm to the consumption of GM food, it would have been criminally negligent if the Ministers had failed to act.

"The measures now to be introduced represent a substantial vote of no confidence in EFSA, which must be one of the most widely despised of all European institutions. EFSA is required to reform itself and to change dramatically its methods of doing business. We hope we will now see much greater transparency and honesty in the GM approvals process, and much less promotion of the commercial interests of Monsanto, Syngenta and the other biotechnology corporations who have had it their own way for far too long. We will have to ensure that the fine words in the document are not "re-interpreted" or ignored, but not before time, it looks as if the interests of EU consumers are coming to the fore."


Contact: Dr Brian John Tel: 01239-820470

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