EFSA is an essential cog in the process for deciding whether genetically-modified plants may be grown in or imported into the EU, and used in food and feed. As the European Commission’s independent risk assessor, a scientific opinion is requested before regulatory decisions are made – although a positive opinion by no means guarantees approval.
Following a request from the Commission, EFSA has spent two years drawing up its new guidance on environmental risk assessment. This included discussions with a range of stakeholders and GM experts on specific technical and scientific issues.
Areas in which EFSA has reviewed and updated its guidance include persistence and invasiveness of the GM plant, and how likely gene transfer from the plant to micro-organisms is, and what the consequences would be.
It considered how the GM plant could affect cultivation, management and harvesting techniques; and ways in which the plant could affect other environmental processes that could, in turn affect human and animal health.
In addition, EFSA considered aspects of designing the assessments of GM plants, such as what plant to compare it to and what the laboratory conditions should be.
Although not specifically asked to by the Commission, EFSA also looked at whether target pests could become resistant, and what impact the plant could have on ‘non-target’ organisms – that is, insects that the plant was not specifically bred to resist. The authority is consulting on this guidance in this area too.
More details on the consultations for EFSA’s new guidance, which runs for 8 weeks, is available at these links:
EFSA has granted a number of positive safety opinions for GM plants in recent years, but getting them through the law making process has been beset with hurdles because genetic modification is a divisive political issue.
A number have been approved through a loop hole mechanism, after being passed back to the Commission by the Parliament when MEPs could not agree.
Last week the Commission announced the approval of BASF’s Amflora potato, for industrial starch use. This is the first GM plant to have received the go-ahead for cultivation in the EU in 12 years.