The Commission is pleasing no one with its pitch to regulate genetically modified organisms.
From Greenpeace to farmer lobbies, all sides fiercely attacked the regulatory proposal on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) released Wednesday.
The long-awaited compromise grants member states an opt-out from imports that contain GMOs into the European Union, but only if they can justify this step with non-scientific reasons that comply with the internal market and the EU’s international obligations, particularly the WTO rules.
Friends of the Earth called it an “empty offer,” as the restriction to non-scientific justification would exclude health and environmental concerns, which remain to be assessed collectively by the European Food Safety Authority.
“This is fake,” Franziska Achterberg, EU food policy director at Greenpeace said. “It won’t stand up in any court. EU free market rules will always trump national opt-outs for GMO imports, especially if governments are denied to use scientific justification.”
Greenpeace also called the proposal a retreat from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s vow to make decisions in the EU more democratic. Juncker pledged to review the GMO rules when running as a candidate for the European Commission presidency.
“I would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so,” Juncker said as a candidate in July of last year.
Industry groups also blasted the proposal.
“The Commission is sacrificing the fundamental principle of the internal market by proposing to set up a patchwork of national bans on imports of safe products,” said Jeff Rowe, Chairman of the European Association of Bioindustries (EuropaBio).
The UK Farmers Union echoed the criticism: “Approval of GM feed and food must remain at an EU-wide level,” spokesperson Fay Jones said. “National bans on imports would disrupt trade and threaten the single market, pushing up costs and damaging competitiveness across the whole supply chain.”
The Commission’s proposal — providing opt-outs on non-scientific justification — would risk bringing “emotions into the debate rather than reasons,” she said.
Not least among the critics was the US government: Trade Representative Michael Froman said he was disappointed with the proposal, which he said “appears hard to reconcile with the EU’s international obligations.”
In a statement he said it seems “odd” that the EU would be divided into separate markets for the circulation of GMO products, while the EU says its goal is to deepen the internal market.
“At a time when the US and the EU are working to create further opportunities for growth and jobs through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive.”
Conservative MEPs also slammed the initiative of Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
European Conservatives and Reformists Group environment spokesman Julia Girling said the announcement lacked “consistency and courage” calling it “a dark day” showing that “the Commission sadly lacks the backbone to stand up to a few anti-GM Member States.”
“This isn’t just an attack on GMOs, but also an ideological attack on free trade and conventional and intensive farming sectors.”
The EU is currently depending economically on the import of genetically modified food, mostly because of soymeal, which is the main protein source for animal feed.
Over 90 percent of the 32 million tons of soymeal the EU imports annually are genetically modified. The Commission’s proposal still needs to pass the Council and the European Parliament, where it is likely to face vigorous opposition.
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