Europe’s position on GMOs and what’s in store

Vir: modernfarmer.com
Vir: modernfarmer.com

The European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety will vote today on the new rules regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Read more on what the new legislation has to offer, how long can a legislative procedure last if it drags into a second reading and when can a final decision be expected.

There are only two GMOs currently  allowed for cultivation in the European Union and only one of them is actually grown. The MON 810 maize, to which the genetic modification provides protection against parasites, has been confirmed for cultivation as early as 1998. Currently, it is grown in five Member States (Spain, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia) and represents 1.56% of all maize grown in the EU and 0 26% of all GM maize in the world. In 2010 cultivation and processing was also approved for a genetically modified potato called “Amflora”, but since 2011, it is no longer cultivated.

DEFINITION OF GMOs AND EU LEGISLATION IN FORCE

Vir: candobetter.net
Vir: candobetter.net

The EU legislation defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as those with artificially modified genes  in order to modify their properties. So far, the most controversial application of GMO technology related is to food. For example, genetic manipulation provides a “natural” protection against pests for crops. At the same time, this technology is also used in  research in the fields of biology, pharmacy and experimental medicine.

Given that this is a relatively new technology and that it’s long-term effects on human and animal health have not yet been fully confirmed there are certain rules at the single market of the European Union for the production of food and feed derived from GMOs. These are grouped in two documents: Regulation 1825/2003 on genetically modified food and feed and Regulation 1930/2003 on traceability and labeling of GMOs.

The three main objectives of the current legislation are:

  • Protection of human and animal health with strict verification procedures of GM food and feed before it can enter the market,
  • Providing effective, transparent and not excessively long common procedures for risk identification and authorization,
  • Clear labeling to ensure that consumers can choose products on the basis of relevant and easily accessible information.
Vir: taringa.net
Vir: taringa.net

This legislation provides that GMOs can be grown in the European Union only if they obtain prior authorisation on the basis of risk assessments carried out by national authorities and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Such provisions, however, restrict the possibility for individual Member States to prohibit cultivation of GMOs on their territory alltogether. This is why, in 2009 the Member States asked the European Commission to prepare a revision of rules related to GMO cultivation to allow them the possibility to prohibit the cultivation of GMOs ontheir territory.

NEW RULES GIVE MORE POWER TO THE MEMBER STATES

Vir: theguardian.com
Vir: theguardian.com

According to the proposal of the European Commission and as currently amended by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament (see below), the new legislation would allow Member States to prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory. This will be done even if the GMO is allowed at the EU level. At the same time, Member States will have the possibility that after ten years the cultivation of certain GMOs in their territory is reconsidered based on a revised impact on human and animal health.

A Member State will be able to initially prohibit cultivation of GMOs without justification. After a GMO has been allowed to be cultivated at the level of the Union, the Member State wishing to acquire an “opt out” will, nevertheless, need to present arguments based on environmental and agriculture policy objectives, planning of urban and rural areas, soco-economic reasons, and others.

A FIVE-YEAR PROCEDURE CAN DRAG INTO A SECOND READING

The European Commission presented a proposal for a legislative document in June 2010 (summary). It was then sent for consideration to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. As this legislation falls into the policy field of consumer protection within the common market, the two institutions act as co-legislators. This means that both have to agree on the final text, requiring a majority of the Members of the European Parliament and Ministers of Member States to vote in favour.

Vir: rsc.org
Vir: rsc.org

The European Parliament adopted its position at the plenary session in June 2011. Prior to this, the Council of Ministers already held discussions and the Presidency presented a draft compromise text. Nevertheless, a significant number of Member States delegations expressed reservations, and it was agreed that more time is needed for a continuation of negotiations (summary) . Successive Presidencies tried to reach an agreement, but it took until July 2014 that the Member States managed to adopt a compromise (Council position).

Now, the ball is back in the European Parliament’s court. The Members of the European Parliament need now to establish their own position through the Parliament’s ENVI Committee. If the ENVI Committee position is approved it can then be sent to the vote at a plenary session. If things go according to the plan in this second reading, the final text could be adopted in the coming year.

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Avtor: Špela Majcen Marušič

I am a first-generation student of European affairs from Slovenia, a proud member of the Charles Darwin promotion at the College of Europe with experience in the European Parliament and the UN Refugee Agency. I believe that a kinder world can be created through cooperation and understanding. We are not as different as we tend to believe. You can follow me on Twitter @SpelaMa.

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