EU trait approvals break 18 month deadlock on GM crop imports

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetically modified organism European union Eu

EU trait approvals break 18 month deadlock on GM crop imports
The Commission today adopted ten new authorizations and seven renewals of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for food and feed use.

The move has been welcomed by feed, cereals and oilseed trade groups. They had long argued the ‘de facto’ moratorium on GM crop import approvals was putting at risk entire shipments of agriculture commodities for food and feed. 

"The authorizations should help to avoid market disruptions, especially for feed for livestock producers," ​Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of farmers' group, Copa-Cogeca, told FeedNavigator.

The EU Association of BioIndustries also reacted favorably.

"After a standstill of one year and half, the Commission has finally decided to authorise imports of safe products in accordance with democratically agreed procedures and with scientific evidence. EU livestock farmers, in particular, benefit hugely from internationally traded GM crops for their animal feed, and it is important to grant them freedom of choice, ”​ said Beat Späth, director of agricultural biotechnology at EuropaBio.

The ten new GMO authorizations include one maize, five soybean, one oilseed rape and three cotton traits, while the seven renewals include two maize, one oilseed rape and four cotton traits.

These crops had gone through a full authorization procedure, including positive scientific assessments​ by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The authorizations are valid for 10 years - today's approved traits will be added to the existing list of 58 GMOs ​already allowed to be used in food and feed in the EU.

Bid to prevent future stalemates

Those GMOs crops had received ‘no opinion’ votes from member states in both the standing and appeal committees – this failure to deliver a sufficient majority for or against a GM product resulted in months of stalemate on trait approvals.

The authorizations were also held up by an ongoing appraisal of the legislation on the decision-making process on GMOs.

The outcome of that review was published this week.

The proposed new rules seek to allow individual countries in the EU to ban food and feed use of EU authorized GM crops on the grounds of ‘overriding public interest’.

Such reform, said the Commission, should prevent hold-ups in the future and is in the interest of 'democratic choice and consistency'.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said the proposal, which was adopted by the College of Commissioners on Wednesday, delivers on one of the key commitments taken by this Commission last July - to bring in 'better regulation'.

GM proposal slated

However, a raft of EU agriculture related trade groups said the proposal was deeply flawed.

Pesonen urged MEPs to reject it, and Alexander Döring, secretary general of EU feed producers trade group, FEFAC, said the new rules would see a lack of a level playing field within Europe as they allow for national and regional opt-out.

He said the competitiveness of the EU livestock sector would also be undermined resulting in farm foreclosures, processing plant shutdowns and significant job losses.

“There is no physical alternative possible for the 30 to 35 million tons of GM soy imported into the EU annually to feed livestock.

If these proposed new rules get the backing of MEPs, then there would be no legal certainty for animal producers in terms of their raw material supply, leaving them reluctant to invest in expansion activities,”​ said Döring.

And he said the Commission failed to consult with any food and feed chain players prior to the proposal’s adoption.

“It is mindboggling to think a ruling set to have such a catastrophic impact on the European livestock sector has had zero economic impact assessment,”​ said the FEFAC representative.

UK Conservative MEP, Julie Girling, said the announcement lacked consistency and courage, and added that decisions to allow or restrict the cultivation and sale of GM food should be based purely on scientific assessment of their benefits or potential risks.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, was critical of both the proposed new way of approaching GM approvals as well as today’s new trait authorizations: 

“Earlier this week Juncker broke his promise to change rules that force GM crops onto the EU market even if a majority of countries opposes them. Today he opened the flood gates to a new wave of GM crops only to please US biotech corporations and trade negotiators. This is TTIP in action."​ 

Impact assessment

This legislative proposal will now be sent to the EU Parliament and the Council to run its ordinary legislative course.

“Our expectation now is that the Parliament and Council would call for an economic impact assessment study on the new rulings instead of just rubber stamping the reform,”​ added Döring. 

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