Tuesday, 22 March 2011 17:45
by Steve Dube, Western Mail
A WELSH scientist and anti-GM campaigner has persuaded Euro MPs to call for an investigation into the European Food Safety Authority, Efsa.
Geologist and writer Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymru told the European Parliament's petitions committee last week that the body that advises the European Commission over whether to approve genetically modified crops and food had a built-in pro-GM bias.
The committee unanimously called for an in-depth investigation into the allegations and for a moratorium in the meantime on further GM approvals.
The decision marked the final step in a campaign by GM Free Cymru that began more than two years ago to alert MEPs to the nature of Efsa's GMO panel.
Dr John said the panel is entirely composed of scientists from research laboratories or university departments that are studying GM technology.
He told the MEPs last week: "Parliament must insist that Efsa is reformed to eliminate the revolving door approach which sees far too much industry influence exercised at the heart of the organisation. The authorisation process should be open, transparent and fully independent. The basis on which decisions are made must be verifiable and open to scrutiny. This is important not only from a food safety perspective but also in terms of enhancing public trust."
Dr John said the system was "grotesque", with membership of the GMO panel effectively restricted to individuals who were in favour of genetic modification.
"The EC is pandering to the commercial aspirations of the biotech corporations while putting the health of European citizens at risk from GM products that have never been adequately assessed," he said.
"There are major problems in the GM assessment and approvals system that need to be sorted out and I was heartened by the unanimous support from MEPs."
The committee also backed a third petition, from German campaigner Carolla Twardella, calling for recent EC approvals of GM potatoes and maize to be revoked.
Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans, one of several MEPs to speak in favour of the petitions – there were no votes against – welcomed the decision.
She said serious questions had been raised about Efsa's impartiality over GMOs, including the use of confidential, untested data provided by applicants in making decisions, a lack of independent scientific testing of plants prior to authorisation, a lack of transparency and public access to the decision making process, inflexibility in decision making and a refusal to review decisions over time.
There were also concerns about the EC's proposals for future reform of the GM authorisation process.
The committee heard that public opposition to GM crops now stands at 61% across Europe, but no action had been taken on an anti-GM petition of more than 1.2million signatures presented to the EC last December.
Ms Evans said: "Very serious concerns have been raised about Efsa's impartiality and its decision-making process and I'm very pleased that the committee decided it warrants further investigation.
"We have asked the environment committee to look into the concerns that have been raised and we will also be writing to Efsa to request urgent clarification on the more serious points.
"In light of these very serious concerns I would urge the EC to take the matter in hand. Efsa must be reformed so that the public can have confidence in its decision-making process. We need independence and transparency at Efsa and the Commission must ensure that happens."
An Efsa spokesman said the authority had no immediate comment on the petition committee's action.
But he said Efsa has a series of robust procedures in place to ensure the independence of its scientific advice.
The choice of experts is based on their scientific competence and expertise and they have to declare any interests with their applications, while external evaluators and observers also review the assessment of applications.
Meanwhile former Women's Food and Farming Union president Ionwen Lewis plans to organise a public debate on GM crops.
"They are trying to push GM crops through the back door and I think we need a balanced debate on the whole issue with expert speakers from both sides," she said.
"We have got to get more involved in things like this because it's all about health and the future of our food."
Mrs Lewis, who farms Welsh Black cattle and Texel sheep near Llangrannog, Ceredigion, says she wants to stage a one-day conference on the issue in the near future.