EU court taking legal action against Monsanto GMO seriously: Testbiotech

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock.com/Zerbor
© istock.com/Zerbor

Related tags: European union

The NGOs involved in the legal action against a decision made by the EU Commission to authorise new genetically engineered Monsanto soybeans are cautiously optimistic after arguments were aired in the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) this week.

The Commission gave its permission for the use of soybeans MON87701 x MON89788 in food and feed at the end of June 2012.

In August 2012, six organisations filed a complaint against this decision.

The Commission rejected the complaint in January 2013, but three of the organisations were allowed to file a legal case at the CJEU under EU regulation 1367/2006.

The plaintiffs include Testbiotech, the Germany based not for profit group set up to assess the impact of biotechnology in 2008, along with the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and another German not for profit organization, Sambucus.

In September 2013, it was revealed that Monsanto, the UK government, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Commission had joined forces to defend the decision in the proceedings.  

The public hearing in the case (T-177/13)​ took place in the Luxembourg court yesterday.

“It was quite an interesting hearing. The court was extremely focused on the substantive details and not just the procedural aspects of the case. While we are no clearer on the eventual outcome, the CJEU would seem to be taking the action quite seriously,”​ Christoph Then, executive director, Testbiotech, told FeedNavigator.

Main plaintiff arguments

MON87701 x MON89788 are grown predominantly in Brazil and sold under the brand name Intacta. These plants have a unique combination of two genetically engineered traits: They express a so-called insecticidal Bt toxin and are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

According to the complainants, EFSA failed to carry out the legally required risk assessments for those soybeans.

They are questioning EFSA’s conclusion the soybeans can be regarded as being equivalent with soybeans from conventional breeding. The NGOs also claimed EFSA has not considered the synergistic interactions between the residues from spraying with glyphosate and the insecticides, and they alleged there are indications that these soybeans pose risks to the immune system.

Therefore, argued the plaintiffs, the EU Commission should not have given permission for the marketing of derived products.

“A wide range of techniques can be used to process the soybeans in food and feed and these may also influence the content of the Bt toxins in the final product. All in all, there are no sufficiently reliable data on the content of Bt toxins in food and feed, making it impossible to determine the actual risks,” ​according to the NGOs.

“We put forward our case yesterday. It is in the hands of the European court now,”​ said Then.

“We don’t expect a ruling before the end of the year, and we have filed an additional two supporting documents to which EFSA and the UK government have not yet had access to so that is going to hold things somewhat,” ​he added.

The hearing took place against a backdrop of debate on the future use of glyphosate in the EU. The Commission is currently considering whether to re-authorize the controversial herbicide for another 15 years.

In conjunction with that, that body recently asked EFSA to assess, for the first time, the health risks for livestock from any glyphosate residues in feed​.  

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