ENVI Committee rejects GM imports ‘opt out’ proposal

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

ENVI Committee rejects GM imports ‘opt out’ proposal

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A European Parliament committee has voted against a draft EU law that would enable countries to restrict or prohibit the sale and use of EU-approved GMO food or feed on their territory.

April this year saw the EU Commission bringing in a proposal paralleling earlier legislation in respect of GMOs intended for cultivation, suggesting that member states could restrict or prohibit - under certain conditions - the use of GM food and feed within their borders after these products have been authorized at EU level.

However, the proposed ‘opt out’ legislation was opposed by the environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) committee today by 47 votes to 3, with 5 abstentions, mirroring a similar rejection by the Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee in September.

The ENVI committee’s recommendation will now be put to a whole Parliament vote at the 26-29 October plenary sessions in Strasbourg.

Internal market concerns

The ENVI Committee members said they were concerned the proposal might prove unworkable and lead to the reintroduction of border controls between pro and anti-GMO countries.

“A clear majority in the committee does not want to jeopardize the internal market. For us, the existing legislation should remain in place, and member states should shoulder their responsibilities and take a decision together at EU level, instead of introducing national bans.

After we spent so many years getting rid of internal barriers, this proposal could fragment the internal market and lead to a return to border inspections, which we all worked hard to get rid of at the time,”​ said ENVI committee chair Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT).

Trade group support 

EU feed, cereal, vegetable oil and protein meal trade groups welcomed the MEPs rejection of the proposal.

The associations said they “expect that the Plenary [on 28 October] will exercise the same assertiveness in rejecting it.”

European feed manufacturers’ federation, FEFAC, has been highly critical​ of the proposal since it was first adopted by the College of Commissioners back in April.

The trade group said the law, if passed, would pose a severe threat to EU livestock producers as a ban on the use of GM feed materials in a member state would cut off its market access to competitive feed supplies.

Status quo ‘not sustainable’

In June, EU Commissioner for health and food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, told an extraordinary meeting of ENVI committee the GMO imports proposal was prompted by the current challenges around the authorization procedure for GMOs in the EU and the voting dynamics of the past four years:

“Since 2003, none of [the] 67 GM food and feed [crops] has succeeded in attracting a qualified majority either in favor or against the draft authorization at the time of voting by the member states.

To put it simply, in four years member states could not draw the line between yes or no for GMOs, de facto leaving it to the Commission to decide.

This situation reflects the polarized views of member states as regards GMOs, irrespective of their safety as demonstrated by EFSA, and despite the fact that the EU is dependent on imported protein crops to feed livestock.”

He said many of the member states that abstained or voted against GMOs invoke ‘national political reasons’ and the negative perception of their citizens towards such crops.

Consequently, the Commission had to take the responsibility to adopt the decision of authorization – to fulfil its legal obligation in the absence of a clear majority,”​ said Andriukaitis

The time has now come, he said, to acknowledge that the status quo “is not sustainable”,​ and that there is a need to find a mechanism that works to avoid further confrontation. 

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