France challenges EU approval process for GMOs
Brussels/Paris – The French EU presidency is challenging the current EU process for market authorisation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At the beginning of the French term, environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo announced that a new ad-hoc committee will define additional criteria for the risk assessment procedure carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In addition to the scientific evaluation of whether GMOs pose a potential danger to human health or the environment, France and other GMO-sceptic EU member states are seeking to implement an assessment of the socio-economic impact of GMO acreage, its usefulness, and an improved examination of its long-term effects on the environment. Borloo’s announcement was accompanied by demands from some EU member states to permit national market bans on GMO acreage. Experts expect another de facto-GMO moratorium if the new procedures are given the green light by the Commission. The Commission, however, which had already established an expert group to review its GMO policy, showed no interest in changing the current approval system. While France and GMO-sceptic governments have sought to weaken EFSA to gain more control over the assessment process that precedes GMO market approval, the Commission has strengthened EFSA’s position.
Commission stands behind EFSA
“France’s move is intended to nullify the meaningful separation of scientific and political decisionmaking on GMOs,” EU insiders told EuroBiotechNews. “Once the addition of political topics to the risk assessment prodedure leads to a situation where the EFSA appears to be undecided, GMO sceptics will say: ‘Look, there’s dissent over the safety of GMOs.” The battle that GMO-sceptic member states are waging against the current system of GMO approval and EFSA, which has yet to reject a market application on scientific grounds, will come to a head in December. One week before Christmas, EU environment
ministers will ask EU heads of state to change the criteria for GMO risk assessment. At the same time, EFSA is expected to publish a scientific opinion on the safety of npt2, an antibiotic marker used in BASF Plant Science’s GM potato Amflora (see p. 10). If positive, the scientific statement, which was requested by the Commission, will lead to the first approval for commercial acreage of a GM crop in Europe since 1998. EU insiders believe the Commission systematically prepared EFSA for the attack under the French presidency, and say the authority was told to update its guidelines
for GMO risk assessment before France took over. EFSA has also moved to address criticism about transparency; in June, the authority invited experts to lend their expertise to its decisions.