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Commission Pushes Ahead with GM Crop Proposals – 11 key questions

Immediate release (23 Jun 2010)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.

The European Commission is pressing on with new procedures governing the approval of GM crops for cultivation at a hastily arranged meeting next week. GM Freeze has written to Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman urging her to get 11 key questions answered before agreeing to any changes in the laws and procedures (copy available on request).

The proposals from the Commission to speed up the EU approvals of GMOs for cultivation and introduce a right to ban at national level were first presented to Member States this month (13 July). At the time GM Freeze advised Defra that they should be “approached with extreme caution”. [1]

The proposals have been produced to overcome opposition to the commercial approval of GM crops. In return for concessions, which the Commission claims will allow GM crops to be banned:

Member states are expected to adopt a more positive stance at the stage of risk assessment and avoid having to recourse to the safeguard clause to address non-scientific issues. [2]

The Commission states there are currently 16 applications for GM crops for cultivation awaiting approval, most of which are for herbicide-tolerant maize.

In a letter to Caroline Spelman (copied to the devolved administrations in the UK) GM Freeze has set out 11 key questions that need “unequivocal answers” from the Commission before anything is agreed. They are:

  1. What legal grounds will enable Member States to ban GM crops without the risk of legal challenge?
  2. Will Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland be able to ban or restrict GMO cultivation without risk of legal challenge?
  3. Do the proposals from the Commission fully comply with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union in terms of proportionality and trade discrimination within the EU?
  4. Do the proposals meet international treaty obligations of the EU and in particular with the ones established under the WTO?
  5. Will the proposed legal changes give Member States with any more powers to restrict the cultivation of GMOs than already available under Directive 2001/18?
  6. Will Member States using the proposed powers have the necessary legal surety that the ban or restriction will be upheld in the face of any legal challenge?
  7. Will Member States using the Commission Recommendations of Coexistence published on 13 July be able to adopt measures that avoid the contamination of conventional and organic crops to a threshold below 0.9% of their own choosing without risking legal challenge?
  8. Will all new and pending applications for GMO cultivation (under Part C of 2001/18) be assessed for risk using the new risk assessment procedures currently under discussion between EFSA, the Commission and Members States before they are put a vote at the Council?
  9. Will outstanding policy issues on liability and seed purity be agreed and implemented before any new GMO approvals for cultivation are voted upon?
  10. Has the Government considered the legal implications of authorizing GMOs if warnings of adverse health impacts are ignored then prove true?
  11. Will the European Commission postpone further authorisations of GM crops until all outstanding GMO policy issues are agreed and implemented [3]?

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The next few weeks could be crucial in deciding whether consumers and farmers will be able to choose to produce and consume food which is not contaminated by GM. What would be the legal implications of the loss of choice? The UK government must adopt a position to protect the demands of the majority of the people in the UK and European Union who want to remain GM-free. Signing up to a rushed and ill-conceived set of policies could plunge EU GMO policy into greater turmoil. There is no rush, and the UK government must insist that all legal, procedural, scientific and socio-economic issues are properly addressed in an orderly fashion.

The Commission has its own agenda, which is about speeding up GM approvals, and the UK must work with other Member States to ensure that changes that serve nobody very well don’t get forced through.



[1] For more see here.

[2] The European Commission’s Explanatory Memorandum says (copy available on request):

“Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Regulation modifying Directive 2001/18/EC as regards the possibility for the Member States to prohibit, restrict or impede the cultivation of GMOs in their territory (Doc. SANCO/ /2010).”

[3] See Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms 2912th Environment Council meeting Brussels, 4 December 2008 at: