A strong coalition of EU food chain bodies has condemned a draft EU proposal to give member states powers over marketing authorisations of genetically modified (GM) crops for feed and food use.
The move is also opposed by anti-GM campaigners, which have warned it would be fraught with ‘practical and legal problems’ and would fail to protect the public and environment from GM crops.
The leaked draft European Commission proposal, seen by Farmers Guardian, does not relate to cultivation of GM crops.
This has already been covered in new rules that came into force on April 2, giving national governments have enhanced powers to ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory, even if they are authorised at the EU level.
The new draft proposal, which could become a formal document as early as next week, proposes introducing similar rules for imports of GM food and feed.
The food chain coalition, which includes EU farming body Copa-Cogeca and bodies representing EU feed and food manufacturers, millers and the biotech industry, has written to the Commission urging it to ‘reconsider its re-nationalisation approach’.
The coalition said the policy does not naturally follow on from the situation with GM cultivations, as the Commission has suggested, as while very few GM crops are currently grown in the EU, there is already a large annual trade in GM imports.
For example, more than €12 billion (£8.6bn) of soybean products are imported, much of it for animal feed, particularly for the pig and poultry industries.
Some EU member states which vote against GM approvals in Brussels import GM soy and other products, including France and Germany.
The move, which would apply at regional level, could potentially lead to different policies across the UK, as Scotland and Wales are both currently firmly opposed to GM crops, while the UK Government has been open its desire to the regulatory process changed to give UK farmers the opportunity to benefit from GM technology.
The coalition fears this trade could be jeopardised if member states were allowed to block approvals, resulting in an overall reduction in GM imports.
It is concerned the move would remove economies of scale in GM imports, potentially pushing up costs for EU livestock farmers at a time when margins are already tight.
In its letter to the Commission, the coalition said the potential move would ‘reverse the economic achievements of the EU single market’ and have ‘enormous socio-economic consequences and would lead to severe distortions of competition for all EU agri-food chain partners’.
“It would severely jeopardise the EU’s internal market for food and feed products, leading to significant job losses and lower investment in agri-food chain activities in countries which would ban the use of GM food and feed on their territories,” the letter said.
It urged the Commission to primarily focus instead ‘on the proper implementation of the existing EU legislation on GMOs’.
The picture is confused, however, as opponents of GM crops claim the proposed changes to legislation could increase the number of GM foods approved for import to the EU.
A report in the Guardian said the proposal result in future authorisations automatically following approval of new products strains by the European Food and Safety Agency (Efsa), with individual countries given an opt-out option, similar to the one recently agreed for GM cultivation.
The report claimed the change could pave the way for 17 new GM approvals by the end of May and quoted a Greenpeace spokesman who claimed the change was driven by the desire of the US to open up the EU to GM imports as part of the TTIP trade deal negotiations.
In another letter to Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, a coalition of NGOs opposed to GM, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, said the majority of EU citizens were sceptical about GM crops in food and agriculture.
It urged Mr Juncker to keep his promise to ‘enhance democratic control of GM crop authorisations’, warning an attempt to shift the responsibility for GM crops to the national level would not make the EU any more democratic.
“The Commission would still be able to authorise GM crops against the majority view of the Council, the Parliament and the people of Europe. Such a measure would also be fraught with practical and legal problems, failing to better protect European citizens and the environment from the risks posed by GM crops,” the letter said.
The draft Commission proposal says the change would only allow member states to ban or restrict the use of GM products in their territory after the products have been authorised.
It said decision taken by member states would need to be compatible with the internal market and free movement of goods within the EU.
Opt-outs will not be granted to member states on health or environmental grounds as these will have covered in the EU authorisation process.
However, the draft notes that opposition to GM approvals usually ‘has nothing to with science but rather concern other aspects of the societal debate in their country’. It said the legal framework for GM decision-making needed to be adapted to allow these individual concerns to be taken into account.
“It will be up to each member state wanting to make use of this ‘opt-out’ to develop this justification on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the GMO in question, the type of measure envisaged and the specific circumstances at national or regional level that can justify such an opt-out,” the draft said.
Member states that opt out of approvals would need to give companies that use GM products time to phase them out.
The draft proposal, which is understood not to have universal backing among Mr Juncker’s Commissioners, might be formally adopted next week.