David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Allowed to say 'No' to GMO

The Caithness Courier, November 2014

Citizens frequently turn to the European Parliament to express their concerns regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to a Eurobarometer survey in 2010, 59% of Europeans do not believe that GMO foods are safe for future generations and in February this year, 19 out of the 28 member states spoke out against approving genetically modified maize.

The European Union has one of the toughest genetically modified food regulations in the world.  Food and feed made from GMOs can only be allowed on the market once they have received authorisation and the cultivation of these crops is only allowed once they have been authorised at an EU level following a strict risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Currently, only one genetically modified crop - insect-resistant maize from the large multi-national Monsanto - is grown in the EU. This genetically modified maize was developed to provide resistance to specific harmful moth larvae such as the European corn borer

However many member states do not wish to have GMO crops on their territory and object that after this EU authorisation they are only allowed to ban the GM product by using a restrictive ‘safeguard clause’ through which they must scientifically prove that the GMO will cause direct harm to people or the environment. For some time there has been requests for more freedom and flexibility on this. Member states believe they should have the right to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory based on other equally important criteria.

These, most notably and controversially are the protection of biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems. Another is the important and still evolving danger of pesticide resistance, but also are concerns including environmental or agricultural policy objectives, town and country planning, land use and the avoidance of GMO presence in other products that could bring the risk of cross-contamination for organic and conventional farmers

Earlier this month (November) these new rules allowing member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in their territory were voted for and passed by the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health committee. This marked an important step to reaching political agreement towards allowing Member States to restrict or ban GMO cultivation in their territory.

The authorisation system will remain unchanged: the risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will remain to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment, and the Member States will keep their capacity to take position at the time of vote on the decision for authorisation.

Now that the Parliament's environment and public health committee has voted on its recommendation, it will be put to MEPs in an upcoming plenary session. If the proposal expanding the legal justifications to prohibit GMO cultivation is then approved by both the European Council and the European Parliament it will enter into force and provide many member states and campaigning organisations with the legal framework they have been looking for.

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