Germany proposes GM approval overhaul

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European commission, European union, Gm

The German agriculture minister has suggested that the EU make
decisions to approve genetically-modified plants in Europe purely
on the basis of science and do away with political voting on the

GM approvals are incredibly slow in Europe, and at present are subjected to votes by the Council of Ministers and by the European Commission. The vast spectrum of views on GM across the bloc, however, mean that it is extremely difficult to get a consensus. The last GM product to be approved for cultivation in Europe was in 1998. Some GM organisms have been approved for import since then, but this has happened only very slowly. At present, political debate is raging over approval on the cultivation of two GM maize lines, Bt11 and 1507, despite a positive opinion on safety having been delivered by the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA). Horst Seehofer reportedly told news agencies outside last month's meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels that future decisions should be made purely on the basis of science and politics should be kept out of it. He believes that the current procedure should be reassessed, and if found to be lacking a new, science-based system should be drawn up. At present, the science surrounding GM plant safety is assessed by EFSA, which operates under the mandate of the European Commission. But EFSA is a risk assessor, and its opinions are not bound to translate into European law. Indeed, in the case of the maize lines EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas is at odds with EFSA's verdict and has declared he will block approval. Seehofer would like to see a parallel system to that which exists for pharmaceutical products, whereby the decisions are actually made by a competent scientific authority. The role of the European Commission should be limited to setting conditions for the use of GM plants, like GM and non-GM co-existence, and labeling requirements. Until a new procedure has been agreed and implemented, he thinks no new approvals should be granted. However the European Commission has said that a moratorium in order to change the system now would have economic consequences, particularly in pushing up the price of meat. The relative cost of feed grains like maize in the EU compared to the US would further increase the cost burden on farmers, and the financial effects would pass down the food supply chain to consumers. Adeline Farrelly, communications director at EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, said last week: "There are many products that have gained approval worldwide but that are still stuck in the European system. These are traders' crops and so the slow process causes problems for them and results in a shortage of supplies for Europe."​ She added: "We believe the Commission should accept it responsibility and sort out the backlog of products waiting for approval."

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