The European Commission has been accused of pandering to the commercial aspirations of the GM / biotechnology corporations while placing the health of European citizens at risk from GM products that have never been adequately assessed.
That claim was made by Dr Brian John, who was today verbally presenting his Petition (1) to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament. Dr John explained to the Committee that he, and many other NGOs and consumer groups, have been trying for years to introduce trustworthy and transparent scientific assessment procedures into the European GMO approvals process -- with a signal lack of success. He showed that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) routinely bases its "opinions" on new GM crops and foods on highly selective and biased scientific dossiers assembled by the applicants without peer review and without independent verification; that the Commission issues consents even where there is substantial scientific uncertainty about the safety of the GM products concerned; that the GMO panel within EFSA is heavily biased towards the "facilitation of consents" rather than the protection of the public; and that independent research into GM safety is routinely blocked by the GM multinationals through the simple device of refusing access to their patented GM seeds and other reference materials. Further, he showed that access to research dossiers and data sets was routinely denied to independent researchers, with EFSA and the Commission using "commercial in confidence" rules in a manner that was against the public interest.
All in all, argued the Petitioner, much of the science on which GM approvals are based in Europe is untrustworthy, since experiments cannot be repeated and since results cannot be verified. He accused EFSA of accepting at face value experimental data that might well be fraudulent -- and of placing the health of European consumers at risk. Furthermore, he argued that the scientific assessment of GM products is increasingly entrusted to EFSA as more and more Member States pull out of the risk analysis process; and that in a new "Draft Implementing Regulation" (3) designed to tighten up the assessment and authorisation process EFSA and the Commission are conniving to water down application requirements and to speed up the authorisation process -- again with clear public health implications.
In its verbal response to the Petitioner, Sebastien Goux of the Commission (4) made no attempt to address the issues raised by the Petitioner. 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.
Following the Petitioner's presentation and the Commission response, committee members from France, UK, Denmark and Ireland spoke in support of the Petitioner, and asked for the matter of GM scientific assessments and approvals to be brought under much more careful scrutiny. No MEPs spoke in support of the Commission. 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.
Speaking to hosting MEP Jill Evans at the end of the Committee session Dr John said he was very grateful for the support of MEPs and the Committee, and for the decision to carry the Petition forward. "It's very clear that this is a big issue throughout the EU," he 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 (5). Its response to the serious points which I raised has been complacent and evasive, and I hope that the Parliament will not tolerate this situation for a moment longer. 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." That is absolutely unacceptable, and it is clear to me that the Commission and EFSA, working together, are pandering to the wishes of the USA and the WTO for faster and simpler GMO approvals, while showing scant regard for the safety of European citizens".
1. Name: Brian John Nationality: Welsh Hosting MEP: originally Kathy Sinnott, MEP Ireland South; now Jill Evans, MEP Title of Petition: The importance of impartiality within EFSA & the food safety rights of EU citizens (No. 0813/2008):
2. http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/commission_response.html Commission response to GMO Petition is "complacent and evasive"
3. 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). http://members.wto.org/crnattachments/2010/tbt/eec/10_0030_00_e.pdf
4. Dr Sebastien Goux, DG-SANCO, European Commission