Friday, May 03, 2013

49 years of undue delays in the EU Approval of GM Products

The EU’s strict laws for GM products state that approval decisions have to be taken quickly once a product is declared safe by independent scientists. However, the European Commission routinely delays such decisions, often for years. The combined undue delay for all GM products? 49 years.

Steps in the EU approval system for GMOs: How does it work? And does it work?
The EU has one of the world’s strictest approval procedures for GM products. First, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) makes an extensive scientific risk assessment. If EFSA finds the product in question as safe as its non-GM counterpart, a political decision must then be made. This decision-making phase is administered by the European Commission and involves the Member States. EU legislation requires the European Commission to stick to specific timelines:
•             It has a maximum of 3 months to ask the Member State representatives to vote (2 nd column from the right in below table).
•             If they vote and do not reach a qualified majority, the Commission has to hold another vote within 2 months (right column).
However, the Commission has formally admitted that it regularly fails to comply with legal timelines when it comes to GM authorisations.

Timelines for GM products with a positive EFSA safety opinion and awaiting Commission action:

Why does this matter?
The EU is the world’s biggest importer of agricultural commodities. Many of these imports are based on genetically modified (GM) crops. They are grown almost exclusively in countries outside Europe; where farmers have the choice between conventional and GM varieties. Today, GM varieties are the standard for soybeans, mainly imported to feed our farm animals, and cotton, for our textiles. We also import GM maize and rapeseed (colza) to meet our needs. The EU has become a net importer and has outsourced arable land nearly the size of Germany’s entire territory to other parts of the world. Despite its import dependency, the EU is putting up “regulatory barriers”, which have already resulted in trade disruptions and higher prices for key agricultural commodities.
If a given GM product is approved for cultivation in the Americas, but it is not (yet) approved for import into the EU, this can result in serious problems for international trade. Shipments with traces of products not yet approved in the EU could be turned away from European ports or diverted to Asia where demand is even higher. The backlog of EU authorisations for GM imports, combined with the fact that European farmers are not given the choice to grow most GM crop varieties, contributes to rising food prices, undermines the competitiveness of European farmers, increases the EU’s import dependency, and creates legal uncertainty for import operators.

 Do you want to know more?
More detailed information about the inconsistency between legally prescribed timelines and the administrative practice has been published by the EU Commission and by EuropaBiox. Check for updates to this document at or contact EuropaBio for more information. The detailed report ‘Approvals of GMOs in the European Union’ (2011) and the more concise report “Failures of the EU authorisation system for GMOs” (2013) are available on the EuropaBio website, as are factsheets on issues such as product safety and trade in agriculture.

Failures of the EU Authorisation System for GMOs - Causes, Impacts and Solutions | Europabio:

See also full pdf version with notes here.

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