MEPs’ tough anti-GM stance criticised by industry

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission and environment MEPs have had multiple clashes over the subject of GM crops and glyphosate of late. © iStock
The European Commission and environment MEPs have had multiple clashes over the subject of GM crops and glyphosate of late. © iStock

Related tags: Gm crops, European union, European parliament, Gm

The row over glyphosate continues to spill over into decisions relating to genetically modified (GM) crops after environment MEPs called on the European Commission to withdraw its authorisations for the use of a GM maize resistant to the weedkiller.

“The GM maize [MON-00021-9] is resistant to glyphosate herbicide, which is classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the WHO’s specialised cancer agency,” ​MEPs said in one of two non-binding resolutions, which will be put to a vote by the full house next week in Strasbourg, France.

The MEPs also raised concerns relating to a genetically modified carnation (SHD-27531-4), criticising the GMO Panel at the European Food Safety Authority for not assessing the possible consequences of human consumption of the petals as a garnish. The authorisation for import, distribution and retail of the flowers should also be withdrawn, the environment committee said.

EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, said there is “no basis for the objections”​.

There is broad scientific consensus that GMOs are as safe as conventional crops, and provide multiple benefits []; several European bodies have come to the same conclusions,”​ explained the group’s communications manager, Christopher Gallasch.

Political hot potato

The use of GM crops is a highly politicised issue and MEPs from the European Parliament have clashed with the European Commission on a number of occasions of late.

In February, MEPs opposed the import of three GM soybeans – engineered to resist glyphosate or a combination of glyphosate and other herbicides – for use as food and feed on the basis that the authorisation was “not consistent with Union law​”​.

Following the vote on maize and the carnation, they maintained that the GM authorisation process remains flawed. Since the current process came into force every GM authorisation decision has been taken by the Commission “without the support of a qualified majority of Member States. In effect, this turns what should be the exception into the norm,”​ they claimed.

A separate EU law that would enable any member state to restrict or prohibit the sale and use of EU-approved GM food or feed on its territory was also opposed by Parliament in October 2015.

134bn benefit

EuropaBio’s Gallasch told FoodNavigator that the Parliament’s recent and potential future objections put into question the democratically agreed product authorisation system by asking the Commission not to approve safe products. [It] is asking the Commission to not do its job,”​ he added.

The use of GM crops in the EU may well have hit a political brick wall, but new figures released by PG Economics this week suggest that the global economic benefits of the technology has reached $150bn (€134bn). Less land has also been used, said PG.

“If crop biotechnology had not been available to the 18 million farmers using the technology in 2014, maintaining global production levels at the 2014 levels would have required additional plantings of 7.5 million hectares (ha) of soybeans, 8.9 million ha of corn, 3.7 million ha of cotton and 0.6 million ha of canola,”​ it reported.

Greenhouse gas emissions have also been reduced, the company claimed. Whether GM could be marketed as 'eco-friendly' is a moot point, according to some: research published in February​ suggested the two terms could be compatible.

However, UK-based organic body the Soil Association said PG makes “a number of dubious assertions” ​about the economic and environmental benefits of the controversial technology. The report also fails to note that 2015 saw, for the first time in 15 years, a decrease in the area of GM crops being cultivated worldwide, said policy officer Georgia Farnworth.

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1 comment

Oh dear

Posted by Simon Ward,

MEPs are either uninformed or they have too much time on their hands. It is about time they concentrated on real risks, and not GMs or glyphosate which are as safe as red meat or wood burning stoves according to WHO, and focus on the most significant health issues. Why not prepare a ranking of the most significant risk so that spending and effort can be applied to best advantage? For those that fear little green men labelling should be sufficient and does not force MEPs into making unscientific judgements to protect their votes.

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