EU gives governments more flexibility on GM crops

18th Jan 2015

The EU has given member states the option to ban cultivation of GMOs that have been recommended as safe to grow by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Previously, member states voted on an EU-wide basis meaning that nations in favour of allowing cultivation were out-voted. Under new regulations, nations could opt to ban cultivation of a GMO, or groups of GMOs defined by crop or trait, or all GMOs in all or part of their territory. The commission will develop guidelines for neighbouring member states, who will be required to take measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs around borders to areas where a ban is imposed.

The vote in favour of the amendment to current legislation will lead to implementing regulations on environmental risk assessment of GMOs, building upon and strengthening existing EFSA guidelines.

Professor Joe N Perry FSB, chair of the EFSA GMO panel said:

"The EU has a stringent regulatory system for GM safety assessment. But it is not overly stringent – the data requested are proportionate to the risk. Approvals for GMOs are based on evidence and data. They are transmitted via publicly available scientific opinions published by the European Food Safety Authority. These opinions are written by a panel of 20 independent academic experts. As a result, half a billion European consumers can be assured that when an opinion declares food from a GM crop plant to be safe, it can be consumed with confidence.

"The current delay in approvals to import and cultivate GM crops within the EU is due to political disagreements, not due to disagreements over the quality of the risk assessments, for which there is a strong consensus amongst scientists across a range of disciplines including genetics, toxicology and ecology."

Professor Johnjoe McFadden FSB, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, said:

"Devolving decisions down to national level will allow each country to make up their own mind and thereby free up GM technology from the pressure of intense anti-GM lobbying at the centre of the EU. Farmers and consumers across the EU will be more accepting of GM technology when they can see its benefits across their borders."

Only one variety of maize is currently approved for cultivation throughout the EU - MON810, a pest resistant maize. The expectation is that the new directive will make a significant difference to the current pattern of approval decisions. However, the outcome will now depend upon individual decisions and how public discussions and choices are affected. These choices are influenced by a wide range of factors.

It remains an important role of the scientific community to ensure that accurate science knowledge and experience plays its part in this, and to explain the range of traits currently in development or incorporated into organisms through genetic technology.

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