The publication reveals the revisions, to be tabled at a meeting of the Commissioner’s College on 22 April, would allow states to restrict or ban the use of GMO imports for food and feed that are authorized elsewhere in the EU, similar to the recent reforms around GM cultivation.
European affairs publication, Europolitics, has made the document public.
EU sources told us that, from what they understand, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “really wants this proposal to happen” so they believe the amendment will fly.
The Commission’s stance is that the current legal framework for decision making on GM food and feed needs to be amended as it does not allow for individual concerns of member states to be taken into account in “a controversial area of great public interest.”
The revision, as proposed, is in the interest of “democratic choice and consistency” states the EU risk manager.
A legal basis for ‘opt-out’ measures
The amendment would provide individual states “the legal basis” to adopt measures to ban the use of GMOs in food and feed on their territory, based on “legitimate considerations other than those linked to the safety of the products.”
Countries making use of the ‘opt-out’ proposal will need to substantiate those measures, states the publication.
“It will be up to each member state wanting to make use of this opt-out to develop this justification on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the GMO in question, the type of measure envisaged, and the specific circumstances at national or regional level that can justify such an opt-out,” states the draft amendment.
EU members, it continues, will not be allowed to use ‘opt-out’ justifications linked to assessments of risk to health or the environment, which are covered by procedures already in place under Regulation 1829/2003.
Up until recently, the EU’s legal framework did not allow individual states to oppose the use of GMOs for cultivation and GM food and feed within their markets by means other than expressing a negative vote during the decision making process or by invoking emergency clauses once authorization has been granted for a GMO.
And some countries have made the choice to adopt ‘de facto’ bans by preventing the use of GMOs for cultivation or for feed and food use through making them subject to conditions which, not being possible to fulfil, lead to the same result.
'No solid legal grounds'
Claire Robinson, editor at GM Watch, told FeedNavigator it is a catastrophic proposal from everybody's point of view - she said the food and feed industry, the European single market and consumers will be negatively impacted.
“It offers no solid legal grounds for European member states to ban GMO imports that have a favorable opinion from EFSA. Member states wanting to use the opt-out will have to meet what appear to be impossible standards of proof.
They will have to prove that the measures they take are compatible with the European internal market and that they are not illegally restricting the free movement of goods – even though they will be effectively disrupting the single market by banning the import of a GMO that EFSA claims is safe and that will be imported by other European countries.
It is unlikely that such a ban will stand up to legal challenge from GMO companies or from one of the many industries that could be affected by it,” she said.
And Robinson went on to say it is “revealing” that opt-outs will not be allowed on health or environmental grounds – the very grounds, she added, on which GMO-sceptical countries base their rejection of GMOs.
“This is an attempt by the Commission to protect EFSA’s monolithic role as the supposed voice of science in Europe and to avoid challenging the inadequate GMO authorisation system currently in place."
Warning on feed costs
EU farm, livestock and cereal groups last week said such a revision of the EU legal framework on GMOs would undermine the single market and would result in a hike in the cost of feedstuffs.
And, last month, Ruud Tijssens, the president of the EU feed manufacturers’ federation, FEFAC, slated the proposed amendment when talking to this publication.
“It would see EU business operators bearing massive extra costs. There are only a few ports in Europe for receiving agricultural commodity shipments and as these, in the main, arrive in bulk the costs involved in segregating crops as per individual member state import requirements would be prohibitive.
Feed companies that operate across borders or small feed firms located near frontiers, doing business in several markets, would be severely challenged in such a scenario, particularly as they have been focused on optimizing production through ensuring more streamlined manufacture and logistics.”
End to stalemate on existing GM trait approvals
Meanwhile, the Commission is also said to be due to break the 18 month deadlock on existing GM crop import approvals and endorse 13 biotech traits at a meeting this month.
Applications for the five soybean varieties, the three GM maize, the two oilseed rape and the three biotech cotton traits, which had gone through the EFSA scientific assessment and EU risk management process, are now expected to be sanctioned in one batch on 22 April.