Science in Society Archive

EU’s Pro-Industry GMO Regulators Endanger Public Health Petition for Independent Science in GMO Risk Assessment

EU watchdog attempts to undermine already lax regulations to speed up commercial approval of risky GM products Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Latest attempt to water down regulations exposed

The European Commission (EC) is pandering to the commercial aspirations of the biotech corporations while putting the health of European citizens at risk from genetically modified (GM) products that have never been adequately assessed, said Dr. Brian John of GM-Free Cymru in the UK [1].

John made his accusation in person at the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels on 26 April 2010. His view is widely shared by independent scientists who have submitted evidence to the European Food Safety Authority on many occasions only to be persistently ignored (see [2] GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham , ISIS scientific publication), and worse, find themselves the target of a concerted campaign of vilification [3] ( Defend Gilles-Eric Seralini and Transparency in GMO Risk Assessment! , SiS 46) .

The latest incident that highlights the relevance of John's petition (number 0813-08) is a ‘draft' on ‘implementing' the rules concerning applications for authorisation of GM food and feed for Europe [4] that the European Commission (EC) ‘notified' to the WTO on 12 January 2010. This draft regulation had not been discussed in the European Parliament, as required under ‘comitology' procedures, and no press report on it was issued; John discovered the document by accident and was alarmed.

“There is a clear attempt here to water down the requirements of safety studies and toxicological tests placed on applicants, making it much easier and faster for them to gain approvals for GM products, regardless of risks to the public.” John explained. He submitted a written objection to the EC [5], detailing the deficiencies of the regulations and especially the draft implementation; and at the same time, protested to the European Parliament against the cavalier way in which EFSA misuses and abuses scientific information in its “opinions”, practically all favourable to industry [6].

EFSA highly selective in its use of scientific evidence

John (and many other scientists), NGOs and consumer groups, have been trying for years to  introduce trustworthy and transparent scientific assessment procedures into the European GMO approvals process to no avail.  The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which provides scientific advice to the EC, routinely bases its “opinions” on highly selective publications and biased scientific dossiers assembled by the applicants that have not been peer reviewed or independently verified. Not surprisingly, many EU member states disagree on scientific grounds with the opinions of the EFSA. When that happens, the EC issues consents, even where there is substantial scientific uncertainty about the safety of the GM products concerned.

The EFSA's GMO panel is heavily biased towards the “facilitation of consents” at the expense of protecting the public, John said; and independent research into GM safety is routinely blocked by the biotech multinationals through the simple device of refusing access to their patented GM seeds and other reference materials. (A group of research scientists in the USA made the same charge to the US Environment Protection Agency in 2009, see [7] Corporate Monopoly of Science , SiS 42) .  Further, access to research dossiers and data sets is routinely denied to independent researchers, with EFSA and the Commission implementing "commercial confidentiality" rules against the public interest.

All in all, John argued, much of the science on which GM approvals are based in Europe is untrustworthy (as is the science for GM approval in the US [5]). Experiments cannot be repeated, and results cannot be verified independently.  EFSA is accepting at face value experimental data that might well be fraudulent and placing the health of European consumers at risk. 

To make matters worse, the scientific assessment of GM products is increasingly entrusted to EFSA alone, as more and more Member States pull out of the risk analysis process. The new "Draft Implementing Regulation" [4] is promoted as tightening up the assessment and authorization process; instead, EFSA and the EC are conniving to use it to water down application requirements and speed up the authorisation process, with utter disregard for public health.

Support for petition from MEPs

Dr. Sebastien Goux of the Commission spoke in response to the petition, but made no attempt to address the key issues raised.  He simply reaffirmed the Commission line that it takes health and safety issues very seriously, and that it has complete faith in the integrity and competence of the EFSA GMO Panel.  He also claimed that the Draft Implementing Regulation currently notified to  the WTO had emerged after two years of consultation within the EU and within Member States, and that it was an “improvement” designed to  speed up and simplify the whole approvals process.

However, Committee members from France, UK, Denmark and Ireland spoke in support of John's petition, and called for GM scientific assessments and approvals to be brought under much more careful scrutiny.  No MEPs spoke in support of the EC.  The Chair  therefore took the feeling of the meeting to be that the petition should be kept open, and examined in much greater depth in association with other initiatives (for example within the Environment Committee)  relating to GM issues.

“It's very clear that this is a big issue throughout the EU,” John said.  “Citizens are not convinced about the safety of GM crops and foods, and their concerns are based partly upon mistrust of companies like Monsanto and Syngenta, and partly upon mistrust of the Commission.  I had hoped that my petition would encourage the Commission to review very carefully the scientific procedures involved in the assessment and approvals process, and to get rid of a wide range of practices that allow potentially dangerous GMOs to get safety clearances from EFSA and then approvals from the Commission. But the Commission has done nothing to clean up its own procedures, or those of EFSA, although it has abundant powers at its disposal [8]. 

John said that the EC is seeking to introduce fast-track GM approvals while playing with smoke and mirrors to convince the  European Parliament that procedures are being “improved”. 

Speaking to MEP Jill Evans, who hosted his petition, John said he was very grateful for the support of MEPs and the Committee, and for the decision to carry the Petition forward. 

ISIS is supporting the petition. Please state your support in the Comments giving your full title and affiliation .

Article first published 10/05/10


  1. GM products: commission places commercial aspirations above consumer health, EU Petitioner highlights deficiencies in GM assessment process, 26 April 2010,
  2. Ho MW, Cummins J and Saunders PT. GM food nightmare unfolding in the regulatory sham. . Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 2007, 19, 66-77.
  3. Ho MW and Saunders PT. Defend Giles-Eric Seralini and transparency in GMO risk assessment. Science in Society 46 (in press).
  4. Draft Commission Regulation on implementing rules concerning  applications for authorisation of genetically modified food and feed  in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European  Parliament and of the Council and amending Regulations No (EC)  641/2004 and (EC) No 1981/2006 (66 pages, in English).
  5. Draft implementing regulation waters down safety assessment of GM products. GM-Free Cymru,
  6. Petition to the European Parliament: EFSA and the food safety rights of citizens,
  7. Saunders PT. Corporate monopoly of science. Science in Society 42 , 12-13, 2009.
  8. Commission slammed for illegal GM policy changes, Press Notice, 23 February 2010,

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There are 3 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Dr. I.S. Perlingieri Comment left 14th May 2010 18:06:55
13 May 2010 Dear Dr. Ho and ISIS: The following 3-part videos has been circulating this past week in the US. Given GM toxicity that ISIS regularly reports [but it is little known in the US], it is worthwhile to share them. 3-part video series on GM: Part 1.! Part 2: Part 3. Thank you.Dr. I.S. Perlingieri

Rory Short Comment left 11th May 2010 01:01:40
Living in South Africa where tragically corruption in government and government associated institutions seems to be becoming endemic I really wonder whether the apparent unresponsiveness to public pressure for proper scientific controls on the commercialization of GMOs is not the result of corrupt relationships existing between members of the licensing bodies and the licence applicants?

EQUIVITA Scientific Committee Comment left 11th May 2010 21:09:01
We fully support and undersign Dr Brian John's petition. We are grateful to him for the work he has done for all of us. Fabrizia Pratesi Coordinator "EQUIVITA Scientific Committee" Via Pietro Antonio Micheli, 62 00197 - Rome Italy