• The EU is about to issue new proposals for the approval of GM crop cultivation. John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy will be proposing that member states opposed to GM crops should be free to ban them from cultivation on non-scientific grounds. Individual countries would be allowed to give socio-economic or cultural reasons for banning cultivation of GM crops. This offer is to be made in the hope that such states will end their tactic of stalling the approval process for each submission to grow GM crops in the EU.
Under the proposal, the existing Europe-wide process for approving GM crops will carry on as it is, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) still having the final say on whether crops are harmless enough to human health and the environment to be safely grown anywhere in Europe.
UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew explains the process involved and the implications of the changes.
There is considerable uncertainty and confusion about who decides what in regard to cultivation of GM crops in the EU and the following sets out to explain the procedure. If an individual or a company wishes to cultivate a GM crop for commercial use (as opposed to scientific study), they must apply via their government to EFSA for a scientific assessment on food safety and environmental safety to be carried out. The EFSA is the "European Food Safety Authority". The organisation is based in Parma in Italy and will typically take two years to reach a decision. It has the reputation of being objective and scientific.
EFSA will issue an "opinion" that the product is safe. If an unfavourable opinion is anticipated, the applicant will withdraw the product before the opinion is issued. The European Commission will then draw up a "draft licence" to permit the applicant to cultivate the crop. This draft licence must be approved by two other EU bodies through a vote. The first is the Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health, S.C.F.C.T.H, referred to as "Scoffta". This committee has never been able to reach a decision on any draft licence for GM commercial crop production placed before it.
The second institution required to vote is the Council of Ministers, either Agriculture or Environment. This committee has also never been able to reach a decision on any draft licence for GM commercial crop production placed before it. The fall back position is then for the European Commission to take the decision on the draft licence itself, which it is reluctant to do and consequently sits on the subject for a very long time. This has resulted in only one decision on commercial GM crop cultivation being made in twelve years. This concerned the cultivation of industrial starch potatoes in Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
New proposals on 13th July seek to change the above procedure. Scoffta and the Council of Ministers will be excluded from the process and the decision to grant a draft licence will rest with the member state, which must still use EFSA for the scientific assessment. It is a very unusual step for the EU to repatriate power to a member state and UKIP is very pleased to see this principle being established.The Commission has already allowed the member states to make up their own rules on ‘co-existence’. This allows a member state with an ‘anti-GM’ stance to find a way of preventing the cultivation, despite a favourable scientific opinion. For example, a country might bring in a law that says for ‘cultural and heritage,’ reasons a GM crop cannot be grown within a certain number of miles from an organic farm.
Before joining the EU, Romania was growing an increasing area of GM soya beans. Romania was warned by the EU that its accession could be considerably delayed whilst their soya beans went through the above process.The Romanian Government reacted by banning the cultivation of GM crops. The farmers there turned to non-GM varieties but were unable to effectively control weed infestations with the result that soya bean growing of any description has now stopped in Romania. If the proposed rule change goes ahead, Romania can be expected to immediately return to GM soya bean production.
In the UK, the decision for commercial cultivation will be taken at ‘devolved administration’ level. Strong anti-GM lobbies are expected in all four regions.The pressure to be able to take advantage of GM technology may well come initially from the edible potato sector (as opposed to industrial starch), where the fungal disease "late potato blight" is getting the better of modern pesticides.