GM Free Cymru

GMO policy favours corporations - not the public interest

by Joao Ferreira 21 September 2011

Recent regulatory developments fail to protect public health, the environment or farmers

European Union policy concerning genetically modified organisms is unsatisfactory - where it relates to compliance with basic criteria like public health protection, conservation of the environment, transparency, informed consumer choice and promotion of rural and socioeconomic development. There is a conflict becoming clearer and clearer each day: the opposition between the interests of the big corporations of the agro-business sector, producing GMOs, and the rigorous application of the precautionary principle - safeguarding the above mentioned criteria.

Legislators cannot be neutral on this conflict. Either they stand for corporations or they stand for the public interest. So far, the EU has chosen the first option. We know that GMO licensing is severely biased, since the bodies carrying out the tests are dependent on industry — which has a vested interest in authorisations. The companies themselves carry out the tests and the associated statistical analyses. The process, therefore, lacks basic transparency rules - which are a pre-requisite to any scientific analysis.

The European Food Safety Authority is responsible, inter alia, for issuing opinions on potential GMO risks – relating to health and the environment. To date, the opinions have all been positive for all GMOs evaluated. Several studies and independent research have raised doubts regarding EFSA's and its agents' impartiality. Furthermore, it is a fact that the GMO licensing procedures currently in practice prevent the scientific community from verifying their conclusions. The EFSA has declared itself incapable of evaluating the long-term environmental impact of GMOs, limiting its analysis to criteria which - most probably - will not affect the interests of biotechnology corporations. And on certain occasions, the EFSA has ignored appeals by national authorities to consider specific risks.

Not unrelated to public pressure, a recent EU regulation gave member states the potential to prohibit or limit the cultivation and dissemination of GMOs - in their territories. This decision was based on acknowledged fragilities and deficiencies in the process of evaluating environmental risks. The same can also be said for health and socioeconomic risks. Therefore, if these reasons are valid for limiting cultivation and dissemination of GMOs in the environment, the same should apply to GMO commercialisation and consumption. There are no valid reasons for this not to happen. Market and business should not prevail over health and environmental protection.

But there is also another aspect to consider. It is the assessment of risk, something that is purely in the technical or scientific domain. But another thing, quite different, is to decide on the acceptability of risk. This is a political decision which, for the sake of democracy, citizens should have a say over - through the political structures that they control and are closest to them. And so it is essential to have effective implementation of the precautionary principle, the removal of GMO species that have already been introduced - thereby defending public health, the environment and farmers.

It is also necessary to reject the control of seeds by multinational GMO patent holders and their use in exploitation and submission of small and medium sized farms. It is necessary to encourage and promote sustainable production methods, small and medium local production, short chains of production-marketing-consumption and local markets - as a way to guarantee the sustainable development of rural life and national economies as well as food sovereignty.

Joao Ferreira is a Portuguese MEP and member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament