Agribusiness says politics trumps science in Commission move

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/Vladimir Cetinski
© istock/Vladimir Cetinski

Related tags Eu European union European commission

Some 17 trade groups including, FEFAC, have made a joint call to the EU Commission to prioritize science-based decision making when modifying EU authorization mechanisms.

The Commission, this week, said it wants to amend the Comitology Regulation to increase accountability​ in the way EU legislation is implemented.

It said it wants to change the rules so the decision-making on particularly sensitive issues such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is made more transparent and accountable, adding that it is “fully aware that issues around GMOs are not procedural, but fundamental political questions.”​  

FEFAC is weighing up the likely impact, however indirectly, such action could have on the feed industry in terms of any changes to the approvals process for GMOs and pesticides.

Beat Späth, director of agricultural biotechnology at Europabio, another one of the groups urging the EU executive to avoid any additional complexity​ as it revises the comitology regulation, said it is evident politics trumps science in the Commission’s stance.

He told us: “The proposal foresees the introduction of up to two additional rounds of voting on top of the two rounds that already exist under the current comitology procedure. This, in combination with shifting more responsibility from the Commission to member states for approving EU safety-assessed products, only further politicizes a process that should be based on the best EU science.

“It also increases the likelihood of approval delays, which are already common practice in the EU for agricultural biotech products.  

EU Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker: "It is not right that when EU countries cannot decide among themselves whether or not to ban the use of glyphosate in herbicides, the Commission is forced by Parliament and Council to take a decision. So we will change those rules."

“Slow and improperly implemented approval systems are already having an impact on biotech innovation in Europe.”

Lack of trust

Previous votes have shown that there is a lack of trust in EU agencies and their science, said Späth.  

“We strongly feel that it is time for the EU to start supporting science, technology and innovation, including agricultural biotechnology,” ​he added.

The Commission has stressed the amendments it is tabling are limited to the handling of exceptional cases in which EU countries are unable or unwilling to agree among themselves.

It has repeatedly made clear its frustration​ over recent deadlocked results during EU committee voting on controversial topics such glyphosate in herbicides or GMOs. 

In June 2016, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, decried the lack of a resolution at both the SCOPAFF and Appeal Committee stages on the extension of the license for glyphosate by EU countries, citing the numerous efforts made to “accommodate requests and concerns from a number of national governments, as well as from the European Parliament.”

The EU executive said: “The overall system works very well and should be maintained. However, in a number of high profile and sensitive cases in recent years member states have left the Commission facing the 'no opinion' scenario.

“In these cases, the political responsibility for taking a final decision falls upon the Commission, obliging a decision to be taken without clear political backing."​ 

Proposed changes  

The Commission wants to change the voting rules in the Appeal Committee so that only votes in favor or against an act are taken into account.

It said his should reduce the use of abstentions and the number of situations where the Committee is unable to take a position and the Commission is obliged to act without a clear mandate from the member states;

It wants to involve national ministers by allowing the Commission to make a second referral to the Appeal Committee at ministerial level if national experts do not take a position.

It is looking to increase voting transparency at the Appeal Committee level by making public the votes of member state representatives, and it wants to ensure political input by enabling the Commission to refer the matter to the Council of Ministers for an opinion if the Appeal Committee is unable to take a position. 

EU comitology system

The Commission is in many areas explicitly empowered by the EU Parliament or the Council to adopt acts to implement EU law.

These implementing acts range from individual product authorizations or work programs to antidumping measures or rules on roaming. The Commission acts under the control of member states following a mechanism set out in the Comitology Regulation.

The Commission submits draft-implementing acts to a committee composed of representatives of each member state, which vote on the draft. There are three possible outcomes of such a vote:

  • If there is a qualified majority of member states in favor (positive opinion) the Commission must adopt the act;
  • If there is a qualified majority against (negative opinion) the Commission cannot adopt the act;
  • If there is no qualified majority for or against (no opinion) the Commission may adopt the draft.

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