GMOs: Time to stand up for EU law and innovation

Written by Pedro Narro Sanchez on 2 June 2016 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

MEPs have the chance to support innovation and evidence-based authorisation procedures when they meet next week in Strasbourg, says Pedro Narro Sanchez.

What do the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission have in common with academies of science and regulators around the world? They all agree that genetically modified crops (GMOs) are as safe as conventionally bred crops.

The European Parliament now has an opportunity to set the direction for innovation in agriculture, and support the approval of safe GM products in accordance with evidence.

The plenary agenda for 6 and 7 June includes two unfounded motions for objections against safety-assessed GMO import authorisations (Bart Staes), as well as a report which "urges the G8 member states not to support GMO crops in Africa" (Maria Heubuch).


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The plenary will also vote on two encouraging reports that emphasise the importance of technological solutions and innovation in agriculture (Anthea McIntyre and Jan Huitema).

Like all of the EU’s product authorisation systems, the one for GMOs was co-decided by the European Parliament, and it foresees a thorough safety assessment, followed by member state voting on the authorisation of the product.

The safety assessment is overseen by EFSA. A positive EFSA opinion confirms that the genetically modified plants assessed are as safe as conventionally bred plants (the "maize is as safe and as nutritious as its conventional counterpart").

Where, despite clear evidence, member states cannot reach a qualified majority in favour or against authorisation, "the Commission is required by the GMO legal framework and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to adopt a decision on the application so, in practice, has little choice but to give the authorisation", as the Commission has been pointing out.

It is all the more regrettable that the Commission commits regular maladministration by unduly delaying the process, as the European ombudsman confirmed in January.

Last week, the UK’s Royal Society re-confirmed that "there is no evidence that a crop is dangerous to eat just because it is GM". Meanwhile, the European Academies of Science found in 2013 that, "There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and the environment than any other crops".

Decision makers who continue to cast GMO safety into doubt should explain why they trust unfounded scaremongering more than these well-founded verdicts from representative scientific organisations, as well as verdicts of the authorities such as EFSA, whose job it is to look into product safety.

Together with our partners across the food and feed chain, we emphasise the urgent need to ensure that "authorisation systems are science-based, proportional, workable, efficient, cost-effective, reliable and innovation-friendly".

Our partners also agree that in the case of GMOs, "it is simply necessary to apply and implement the existing EU legislation properly and improve legal certainty".

Rather than asking the Commission to behave illegally by not approving safe products, and confirming the EU’s tendency to become the world’s agriculture museum, MEPs can choose next week to stand up for innovation and evidence-based, democratically agreed product authorisation procedures.

About the author

Pedro Narro Sanchez is public affairs manager for agricultural biotechnology at EuropaBio

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