Author: Svilena Velcheva

“The only ones who want GMOs in Europe are the lobby of the agribusiness and the Trump administration. EU citizens and farmers have rejected them again and again! ” This is stated in the letter of 74 EU civil society organizations, which called this week for the European Commission to reject GMOs from trade talks with United States.

According to media reports, the Commission is still negotiating with United States, despite the Covid-19 Pandemic, and would like to “step up” work on regulatory cooperation. During the negotiations, the Commission may propose to speed up the authorization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The EU’s GMO regime aims to protect people and the environment, according to a letter from civil society groups. Despite many years of aggressive marketing, genetically modified technologies are still in the hands of only a handful of countries. In fact, the number of countries growing genetically modified crops has been shrinking since 2010. Today, almost 90 percent of GMO plants have been modified to survive spraying with herbicides that would otherwise kill them. The cultivation of this type of GM crops has led to a massive increase in the use of herbicides, according to the position sent to the EC.

GMOs are grown mainly as large-scale industrial monocultures with harmful effects on ecosystems. They have been found to pass into the wild, and the consequences are still unknown.

Potential public health risks that may arise from differences in the composition of GMOs compared to unmodified GM crops remain poorly understood.

The EU has introduced strict rules to ensure that GMOs can only be placed on the market after a thorough safety assessment and subject to tracking and labeling requirements. These standards are in place to protect people and the environment, the NGO said in a letter. According to them, the level of control of individual GMOs in the environment cannot and should not be reduced.

Today, GMO authorizations in the EU are based on a cursory scientific assessment that ignores important emphasis on their potential harm, civil activists say. The assessments provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) generally ignore key aspects, such as the increased use of chemicals associated with herbicide-tolerant GM crops, as well as potential adverse effects arising from stressful conditions, such as drought. They also ignore the effect that can occur when combining different GMOs.

In addition, EU GMO authorizations are the result of a deeply undemocratic decision-making process in which the Commission takes a decision without the support of a qualified majority of Member States and against parliamentary objections raised by a majority of Members of the European Parliament. This process undermines the democratic foundations of the EU and further puts at risk the health of EU citizens and the protection of the environment, European associations commented in their letter.

Accelerating this already unsatisfactory process will further reduce scientific rigor and democratic control. This may stop EFSA from requiring additional data to establish the safety of GM products. There may also not be enough time left for their implementation by the governments of the Member States and the European Parliament.

Instead of speeding up the authorization of GMOs, the Commission should:

  • Properly implements existing EU legislation on GMOs.

The safety assessment of GMOs needs to be improved so that GM products are only authorized “following a scientific assessment to the highest possible standard … for all the risks they pose to human and animal health and to the environment”. as required by EU legislation on GMOs.

The basic judgment of the European Court of Justice of 25 July 2018 on the scope of EU GMO law should be fully implemented. Any attempts to release GMOs derived from new genetic engineering techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas, must be rejected by EU law, 74 civic associations insist.

  • Tightening EU legislation on GMOs

Existing gaps in EU regulations on the labeling of GMOs need to be addressed to ensure that consumers have complete information on GMOs used in food production. At present, food derived from animals reared with GM feed does not need to be specifically labeled.

Finally, there is an urgent need to reform the GMO authorization process so as to allow full democratic scrutiny of EU decisions to authorize genetically modified products, say organizations that have already made some recommendations in this regard.

Translator: Valentina Vagge


Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations

The project “Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations” shall be implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project is to improve citizens’ awareness of the role of non-governmental organizations in society. This material is established with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The whole responsibility for the content of the document is held by the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development and under no circumstances can this material be considered to reflect the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria.