A proposal designed to improve scientific consistency and transparency for decisions on GM food could 'politicise' the approvals process.
The initiative, proposed by health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou and environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, has been met with caution from both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the biotech industry.
"Today's debate by the College of Commissioners on the EUs regulatory approval process for products developed using agricultural biotechnology appeared to question the scientific role of the EFSA in the safety assessment of these products," said EuropaBio in a statement.
"EuropaBio cautions against any move that would politicise the already established independent science based safety assessment process."
The Commission proposes that EFSA should liase more fully with national scientific bodies, with a view to resolving possible diverging scientific opinions with Member States. And in addition, it wants to invite EFSA to provide more detailed justification in its opinions on individual applications for not accepting scientific objections raised by the national competent authorities.
For its part, EFSA has invited Dimas to a meeting to update him on EFSAs scientific and procedural approach on food safety issues, especially on his comments on the risk assessment of GMOs.
"EFSA would also like to discuss the issues raised in the EFSA evaluation report on practises concerning risk assessment, to which the Commissioner referred in his speech at the conference on GMO co-existence in Vienna last week," said the authority.
EuropaBio has also had issue with some of the comments made by Dimas at the Vienna GM summit.
"It must frustrate many in Europe that others, such as Commissioner Dimas, spoke about issues that are irrelevant to co-existence such as environmental risk assessments for approvals of new products," said Simon Barber, director of EuropaBio's plant biotechnology unit.
However, the Commission is certain that practical improvements could be made to the system to improve the scientific consistency and transparency for decisions on GMs and develop consensus between all interested parties. It said that these improvements would be made within the existing legal framework, in compliance with EC and WTO law, and avoiding any undue delays in authorisation procedures.
"The measures proposed aim to bring about practical improvements which will reassure Member States, stakeholders and the general public that Community decisions are based on high quality scientific assessments which deliver a high level of protection of human health and the environment," said the EC in a recent statement.
"These improvements will be made within the existing legal framework, in compliance with EC and WTO law, and avoiding any undue delays in authorisation procedures."
But EuropaBio remains concerned the proposed improvements could be used to create further delays.
"This would contradict the Commissions obligations under EU law and international agreements," said Barber. "We will have to wait to see what this all means in practice.
"Any political interference in what should be an independent scientific assessment can only harm public confidence in the EUs food safety system. Any move to undermine the EFSAs scientific independence will also damage consumer confidence in all aspects of food safety exactly what EFSA was established to address in the first place."