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By Lim Li Lin and Chee Yoke Heong
National bans on GMOs initiated by some European countries are currently under threat. The European Commission is asking countries to vote on Nov. 29 at a Regulatory Committee meeting on whether every country that has a national ban should renounce it.
On September 20, 2004, the European Union Regulatory Committee ruled in order to reach a decision supporting the European Commission's proposal to import Monsanto's GM corn (MON 863 and MON 863 x MON810). The committee postponed a formal vote on Monsanto's request, to seek more information and clarification about the event. On November 29, 2004, the formal vote of said Regulatory Committee regarding MON863 maize took place (see below: Experts from the European Union did not authorize the new GM maize <#Expertosunioneuropea>). This has been the last event in the context of GMO applications that is opposed to strong resistance from the countries of the European community. Furthermore, it was the commission's eighth failed attempt to win support for an OMG.
Under current European law, when a company makes an application to market a GMO or GM product in one member state, and there is no consensus among other member states, then the commission intervenes. It seeks advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has several groups of qualified scientists who carry out an environmental risk assessment and assessment of impacts on human and animal health. If EFSA supports an application, the commission approves the respective GMO or GM product.
This is then transmitted to the competent regulatory committee, depending on the use to be made of the GMO or GM product in question. The Committee is made up of 25 representatives of the Member States. Decisions are made by the vote of a qualified majority. A certain percentage of the votes (232 out of 321) are required to reach such a qualified majority.
If the regulation committee cannot reach a qualified majority to adopt or reject the proposal, the next level of decision is the Council of Ministers (composed of the ministers of agriculture and environment of the 25 member states, depending on the use that is going to be used). have the GMO or GM product). A qualified majority is required to approve or reject the proposal.
However, in the absence of a qualified majority, the commission can make the final decision. This means that the approval of a GMO in the EU can occur despite continued objections from a number of Member States. Additionally, in the case of the approval of MON863 corn, it was done against the will of the majority of citizens, who strongly reject GMOs.
Here is the list of the rulings since December 2003, to reach a qualified majority in both the regulatory committee and the State Council:
December 8, 2003: Vote on Bt11 corn for feeding purposes, in the Committee established on the food chain and animal health. Result: unqualified majority. 6 countries in favor; 6 against; 3 abstentions.
February 18, 2004: Vote on NK603 corn for import, animal feed and industrial processing purposes, in the established Committee for the release of GMOs into the environment. 9 in favor; 5 against; 1 abstention.
April 26, 2004: Vote on Bt11 corn for use in animal feed, in the Council of Ministers of agriculture. Result: Unqualified majority. 6 in favor; 6 against; 3 abstentions. The decision then went back to the commission, which approved Bt11 corn for food use on May 19, 2004, thus ending the de facto moratorium in the European Union. However, Syngenta subsequently announced that the product would not be marketed in Europe for now, due to strong resistance from consumers.
April 30, 2004: Vote on NK603 corn for food use, in the Committee established on food chain and animal health. 8 in favor; 5 against; 2 abstentions.
June 16, 2004: vote on GT73 canola for import, animal feed and industrial processing, in the established Committee on the release of GMOs to the environment. 9 in favor; 12 against; 4 abstentions. GT 73 will go to the Council of Ministers of the Environment by one vote.
June 28, 2004: Vote on NK603 for import, animal feed and industrial processing, in the Council of Ministers of the Environment. 11 in favor; 9 against; 3 abstentions. The decision then went back to the commission, which, on July 19, 2004, approved this corn for importation, processing, animal feed or industrial purposes. However, importation for this use is only started once the equivalent approval has been granted for human consumption (see next point)
July 19, 2004: Unofficial vote (therefore not decided by the Council of Ministers of Agriculture) on NK603 corn for food purposes. This was after it was clarified that the qualified majority could not be reached, and that Member States had not changed their position when the established Committee rejected the request on April 30. The proposal returned to the Commission on October 30, 2004, and the Commission approved NK603 for feed use on October 26; which means that the importation of NK603 corn is not allowed in Europe for now.
In other instances, on September 8, 2004, the commission approved the registration of 17 varieties derived from MON810 maize in the EU common catalog of varieties of plant species for agricultural use. MON810 has been authorized in the EU since 1998, under previous existing legislation that is considered even weaker than current legislation, but this is the first time that GM varieties have been adhered to the common catalog.
The measure enables farmers to grow GM varieties commercially throughout Europe. Before this decision, the 17 varieties of seeds had only national authorizations - 6 are in the catalog in France, 11 in Spain - therefore only farmers in these countries could buy the seeds and grow them. There is a wide campaign in Europe called "Stop the cultivation", which is coordinated by Friends of the Earth. (See: www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/gmofree)
And this opposition does not only come from NGOs; 15 of the 25 Member States have also criticized the Commission's decision. Furthermore, the Polish Ministers of Agriculture and Environment want to maintain their national restrictions on the cultivation of MON810 maize. The two ministers demanded that the Commission has made its decision too hasty and without having consulted any EU Member State.
However, the Commission was not able to reach a consensus on the proposed maximum levels of GMOs with regard to seed contamination. A preliminary decision was made for the commission members to adopt, proposing a maximum 3% presence of GMOs in corn and canola before the labeling was implemented. Critics of this decision include market chains, environmental groups and seed processors and consider that this fixed limit is quite a high percentage and have proposed that it be only 0.1%.
The decision on this limit of GMO content in seeds was postponed until there is more information related to the economic impacts that this could generate.
National bans on GMOs initiated by some European countries are currently under threat. The European Commission is asking countries to vote on Nov. 29 at a Regulatory Committee meeting on whether every country that has a national ban should renounce it. Such prohibitions are the point of the complaints against the European Union before the World Trade Organization filed by Canada, Argentina and a few other countries in which it is stated that these measures are barriers to trade.
2. "European ministers split on Monsanto’s GM maize NK 603", Third World Network Biosafety Information Service, June 30, 2004.
3. "Monsanto GM maize not authorized by EU Commission", Friends of the Earth press release, June 28, 2004.
4. "Civil society urges EU Commission to reject GM seed contamination", press release from Save Our Seeds, Kampffmeyer Mühlen Hameln, EFFAT, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, EEB, IFOAM EU, EURO COOP, Confederazione nazionale COLDIRETTI, Coordination Paysanne Européenne CPE, Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers and Ranchers of Spain, 8 September 2004.
5. "Inscription of MON 810 GM maize varieties in the Common EU Catalog of Varieties", European Commission Press Release IP / 04/1083, 8 September 2004.
6. "EU urged to exercise caution on GM crops", Environment Daily 1750, 19 October 2004.
7. "EU Commission drops decision on GMO seed labels", Reuters, 8 September 2004, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L08560446.htm
8. "Austria’s No GE seed contamination regulation working well", Third World Network Biosafety Information Service, June 19, 2003.
9. "Safety fears and secrecy: Greenpeace challenges new GMO application", Greenpeace, 17 September 2004
10. "Europe halts Monsanto maize", Friends of the Earth Europe, 20 September 2004.
11. "Don’t let Bush and the WTO win: Help stop the European Commission from backing down on GM foods", Friends of the Earth Europe, October 2004.
Translation: Elizabeth López González (Semillas Group) *
* Network for a GMO-Free America