Giving the 'green light' to GMO vested interests is 'anti-European'

Written by Bart Staes on 26 February 2015 in Feature
Feature

Devolving the authorisation of genetically modified organisms to EU member states is 'a false solution', argues Bart Staes.

The Greens/EFA group voted against the new scheme for the authorisation of genetically modified organisms in the European Union, as it de facto renationalises decision-making regarding the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

Although we played our role as legislators and worked together with other political groups and the excellent rapporteur Frédérique Ries, while improving the proposed legislation of the commission, in the end we did not want to give the green light to the final text.

This legislation is turning the world upside down and is in fact anti-European. Would it make sense to renationalise migration policies? Or environmental issues, that are by definition cross-border issues? Of course it would not. Neither does it make sense when it comes to the cultivation of GMOs because of cross border contamination. 

For example, the research of US scientist Ignacio Chapela demonstrates that genetically modified (GM) crops can contaminate non-GM crops hundreds of kilometres away. Is this 'the freedom of choice' that the lobby organisation Europa Bio speaks of?

Whereas in many domains it would simply not be accepted to renationalise European policies, when it comes to GMOs other powers are at play. As with other agricultural dossiers, it is clear that the infamous American 'Monsanto lobby' played a role in the framework of the ongoing transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations. 

"Countries opposed to GMOs are given the carrot of being able to opt-out of authorisation, but the approved scheme fails to give them a legally-watertight basis for doing so"

Those who think I am exaggerating should read the report 'Biotech Ambassadors: Diplomacy or Marketing?' by the American nongovernmental organisation food and water watch. And of course we should not forget that the main European chemical companies clearly want to dominate agriculture and food production with their toxic mix of pesticides, patented coated seeds and GM technology. 

I am referring to huge billion euro companies like Bayer, Syngenta and BASF that also play their political cards, not hesitating to openly blackmail politicians and sue legislators. This can be seen in the ongoing battle on the banning of a destructive type of systemic pesticide called neonicotionoids.

It was a clever step by the previous commission and its health and consumers DG to propose this new legislation. I understand they were sick and tired of the fact that GMO decisions were being blocked in the council and being taken to court by large biotech companies.

Powerful companies are very annoyed that politicians stand in the way of the advancement of their sector and that - oh horror - European politicians dared to weigh other criteria and reasoning besides their largely secret scientific data.

The European precautionary principle allowed us to stand in the way of rolling out this biotech 'brave new world', in which these patented and poisonous products could conquer the world and lead us to a mono-cultural 'paradise'.

The new scheme is being propagated as 'freedom' for member states. I hope to be proven wrong, but I predict it will ease the way for GMOs in Europe, while failing to respond to the need to address the flawed EU procedure for authorising GMOs. We would certainly want the EU environmental risk assessment considerably improved and brought into line with the environment council conclusions of December 2008 and to see the inclusion of socioeconomic considerations in the EU authorisation process. 

Despite a majority of EU member states and citizens being consistently opposed to GMOs, the real purpose of this new scheme is to make it easier to wave through EU authorisation for GM crops. Countries opposed to GMOs are given the carrot of being able to opt-out of authorisation, but the approved scheme fails to give them a legally-watertight basis for doing so. This is a false solution.

There is definitely a need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. We cannot persist with the current situation whereby authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments. There is consistent opposition from a majority of member states and, most importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. 

However, the answer to this cannot be a trade-off of easier authorisations against easier national bans. This deal risks finally opening the door to GMOs being grown across Europe. We look to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to deliver on his promise to ensure the EU authorisation process is reformed to reflect the consistent democratic opposition to GMOs in Europe.

 

About the author

Bart Staes (BE) is parliament’s Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur on genetically modified organisms (GMOs): possibility for the member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory

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