A window of opportunity for a comprehensive GM ban. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is to carry out scientific assessment on food products proposed for the market in order to ensure that they are safe for human and animal consumption and for release into the environment. When the EFSA is satisfied that the products are safe, it gives a “positive opinion”, which, in the past, would almost certainly have resulted in product approval, despite dissenting opinions from national regulatory authorities.
The EFSA has been long been accused of bias towards the biotech industry, not just by civil society organisations, but by EU member states, including Austria, the current holder of the rotating EU Presidency. They criticise it for “GMO bias” and say it has approved GM products without proper research.
On 12 April 2006, the European Commission decided to introduce “practical changes” to the EFSA’s GMO approval process “so that the scientific consistency and transparency of its decisions on GMOs will be improved.”
The Commission “invites” the EFSA to fully cooperate with member states’ national scientific bodies, to provide them with a detailed justification in case it rejects scientific objections raised by the national authorities, and to clarify which specific protocols should be used by applicants for scientific studies to demonstrate the safety of the proposed products. The Commission is set to reserve itself the right to suspend the authorisation procedure and refer back “important new scientific questions” raised by the member states that are not fully addressed by the EFSA opinion. Applicants and the EFSA will also be asked to address more explicitly the potential long-term effects on health and biodiversity in their risk assessments for placing GMOs on the market.
The changes were based on proposals by Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, and adopted by the European Commission after discussions with member states and other stakeholders.
The Commission’s move to reform the EFSA was generally welcomed by the NGOs. But Greenpeace Europe wants EFSA to be immediately subject to mandatory guidelines on how to evaluate the risks of GMOs, and further, calls for suspension of the current authorisation process and for re-assessment of EFSA’s previous opinions on GMOs.
The industry group, EuropaBio welcomes most of the proposals except the one that gives the Commission the right to suspend the authorisation procedure and refer back the question if a member state raises new scientific questions not fully addressed by the EFSA opinion. “I find this point very confusing and wonder how the Commission will do this ‘in the existing legal framework’, as it says it will,” said Simon Barber from EuropaBio.
More importantly, this creates an opening for all independent scientists and civil society to submit new evidence to the European Commission that could result in a ban on all GMOs if the evidence is taken at all seriously (see for example, “GM ban long overdue, dozens ill & five deaths in the Philippines” SiS 29, and many articles in recent issues of SiS).
Article first published 27/04/06
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