GM case: legal expert rejects ‘precautionary principle’ grounds

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/Zerbor
© istock/Zerbor

Related tags European union

An opinion from an advocate general (AG) about a European Court of Justice (ECJ) case found EU states should only adopt emergency measures regarding genetically modified feed and food if they can establish a clear and serious risk to health and the environment.

The case was brought by Italian farmer, Giorgio Fidenato, who was challenging a former Italian ban on GM maize cultivation.  


In 2013, the Italian Government asked the Commission to adopt emergency measures to ban the cultivation of maize MON 810 in the light of some new scientific studies carried out by two Italian research institutes.

Based on a scientific opinion from EFSA, the Commission concluded that there was no new science-based evidence to support the requested emergency measures and to invalidate its previous conclusions about the safety of maize MON 810.

Despite this, in 2013 the Italian government adopted a ministerial decree prohibiting the cultivation of MON 810 on Italian territory. In 2014, Fidenato and others grew maize MON 810 in breach of the ministerial decree, for which they were later prosecuted.

The non-binding opinion​, published on 30 March, from AG, Michal Bobek, applies to emergency measures undertaken by member states against products authorized by or in accordance with Regulation 1829/2003, with equal force to products authorized for food or feed uses and products authorized for food, feed and cultivation in the EU.  

“We do not expect a direct impact from this court case on GMOs in the EU – neither on cultivation nor on food and feed imports. The case is really about cultivation but has no likely impact on Italy’s current ‘opt-out’,” ​Beat Späth, director for agricultural biotechnology, at biotech industry trade group, EuropaBio, told us. 

However, he said it was interesting to note the AG’s interpretation confirming that products cannot be banned by simply referring to the precautionary principle, because “the difficulty then becomes how to determine where to draw the line so that the precautionary principle does not turn into a universal incantation to block innovation."​ 

“Our industry has been opposed to legislation which has led to the ‘nationalization of cultivation’, the basis for the new Italian ‘opt out’ and for many other member states’ opt-outs, just as we are opposed to the Commission’s more recent proposal​ to allow for ‘nationalization of imports’. 

“Our member companies have withdrawn most (all but six) cultivation products from the authorization system and are focusing their product pipelines on other parts of the world. However, the EU still benefits greatly from GM imports which are used to feed the bloc’s cows, pigs and chicken and produce high value products,” ​he added.

Related topics Regulation Swine Poultry Europe Grains

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