The European Commission has been warned its proposals to give member states more power to ban imports of GM products could disrupt the animal feed market and push up costs for farmers.
The proposal, formally launched by the Commission on Wednesday, has been widely condemned as unworkable and a threat to the EU single market.
The proposal is to amend legislation to give member states more freedom to restrict, or prohibit the use on their territory of GMOs in food or feed that have been authorised at EU level.
Opt-outs would not be granted on health or environmental grounds as these would have covered in the EU authorisation process but would ‘concern other aspects of the societal debate in their country’.
The proposal was based on a review of the EU GM-decision-making process, which the Commission said confirmed the need for changes that reflect public views and allow national governments to have a greater say on the use of EU-authorised GM products for animal feed or human food.
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: "The Commission has listened to the concerns of many European citizens, reflected in the positions expressed by their national governments.”
But, while the proposal marks just the start of a lengthy legislative process, it has already sparked an enormous backlash and been condemned by the farming, biotech and feed industries, MEPs and anti-GM NGOs.
The NFU said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by the proposal. Dr Helen Ferrier, NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser 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 EU is almost entirely reliant on imports for its protein feed requirements, most of which are GM.
“National bans would seriously compromise many Member States’ ability to produce pig and poultry meat, leading to greater imports from outside the EU.”
On April 2, new rules came into force giving national governments enhanced powers to ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory, even if they are authorised at the EU level.
The Commission has suggested the latest proposals follow on from this, a claim strongly denied by an EU food chain coalition, which includes EU farming body Copa-Cogeca and bodies representing EU feed and food manufacturers, millers and the biotech industry.
It pointed out, in contrast to the small acreage of GM crops grown in the EU, there is already a strong EU trade in GM imports, which would be jeopardised if individual member states could block them for political reasons.
Speaking on behalf of EU Food and Feed Chain partners, Pekka Pesonen, Copa-Cogeca Secretary General urged the EU Parliament and Council to reject the Commission’s proposal.
He warned it would ‘seriously threaten the Internal Market for food and feed products’ and cause substantial job losses and lower investment in the agri-food chain in countries that opt-out.
Jeff Rowe, of EuropaBio, which represents the biotech industry, said: “This proposal would limit the choice for livestock farmers and threaten their livelihoods. It would also set the alarm off for any innovative industry subject to an EU approval process in Europe.”
UK MEPs joined in the condemnation. Conservative Environment spokesman in the EU Parliament Julie Girling said the proposal showed the Commission ‘lack the backbone to stand up to a few anti-GM Member States’.
She said: "GMOs authorised at EU level by food safety watchdog EFSA are already deemed safe. It is a dark day when the EU's executive is happy to sit by and watch its own basic freedoms, trade commitments, farmers and consumers suffer while ignoring the scientific advice that taxpayers themselves are paying for."
Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith MEP described the proposal as ‘an unworkable fragmentation of the European single market’.
He said it would ‘do nothing to help Scotland remain GM-free’ as the UK Government remains pro-GM and would not ban the circulation of GM products
Anti-GM campaigners are also opposed to the proposal, claiming it could pave the way for more GM import authorisations, particularly from the US as part of ongoing Trans-Atlantic TTIP trade deal negotiations.
A coalition of NGOs opposed to GM has written to Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, claiming the move would be ‘fraught with practical and legal problems, failing to better protect European citizens and the environment from the risks posed by GM crops’.
Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said the proposal could highlight the extent to which GM feed is used in the UK.
“If this proposal actually works, then it could hasten the end to the hidden use of GM animal feed in most non-organic meat and dairy products in the UK, he said.
"The second largest supermarket in the world, Carrefour in France, and many retailers in Germany have already successfully banned GM animal feed – so contrary to what the NFU suggest, it is possible for the UK to produce livestock products without GM feed.”
This legislative proposal will be sent to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.
It could be amended and will need to be agreed by both bodies in order to become law.
A Commission Q&A on the proposal can be seen here