PM+: EU GMO policy undermining single market

Written by Garlich Von Essen on 24 April 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Europe's GMO rules are dysfunctional, says Garlich Von Essen.

No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about the EU's 'ever closer union' over the coming weeks as the European institutions look ahead to Schuman day.

There's no doubt also that the EU's single market will be hailed in speeches and articles as one of the most impressive success stories of this ever closer union, touted as reviving the continent's economy and transforming its governance.

With EU-level standards for product authorisation, marketing, consumer information requirements and other related measures, the single market provides more market access and business opportunities to operators, more choice to consumers, and more freedom to its citizens - while safeguarding health and safety.


However, when it comes to GMOs, it seems that none of that counts.

Following the agreement of member states and the European parliament to re-nationalise the authorisation of GMOs for cultivation, the European commission is now contemplating taking the same approach for decisions on GMO imports such as soya and maize.

EU member states would be allowed to ban these imports to their territories on so-called 'compelling grounds' – grounds that the commission itself seems unable to quite define.

While banning the cultivation of GM crops is considered justifiable on grounds of 'specific landscapes', 'town and country planning' or 'ethical concerns' (criteria sufficiently vague to cover most member states' future decisions), the commission appears to find it difficult to find any compelling grounds for the ethical concerns of the millions of pigs, hens and cows that apparently, healthily and happily, eat imported GM feed year after year.

And of course this is not to mention the 500 million EU citizens that enjoy the resulting dairy and meat products.

With health and safety concerns currently 'off limits' in a bid to safeguard at least some of the European Food Safety Authority's credibility on their respective assessments, even an imaginative mind would struggle to find a way to practically implement any rules that would respect the single market as well as international trade agreements.

Consequently, our main agricultural trading partners as well as Europe's own agri-food chain operators are united in their rejection. Should this not be reason enough to take a step back and think again?

It is understandable that the commission is tired of always having to take the blame for the EU's dysfunctional policy on GMOs when we all know that member states and MEPs are equally responsible.

However, sacrificing basic principles of the single market for short-term political gain underestimates the potential longer-term consequences: some European ports may remain open to GM imports, some may be closed; traders will gain or lose business, depending on the member state in which they are based in; farmers will have access to different inputs at different prices, impacting their production and profits.

And all that can change following a national election.

And what about other so called 'sensitive' products or technologies? Should we not apply such re-nationalisation approaches to them as well?

The resulting political and regulatory patchwork would no longer be a single market. It would, in the famous words of Laurel and Hardy, be "just another fine mess".

The commission would therefore be well advised to defend Europe's single market and its fundamental principles. Not just for GMOs – but also for GMOs. An ever looser union surely is no promising political strategy, either for the commission or for Europe.


About the author

Garlich Von Essen is secretary general of the European Seed Association (ESA)

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