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The European position about GMO

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The Environmental Commission and the Environment Council said yes to “the right to decide”. Member states may independently establish to ban or approve genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds on their soil. Only the vote of Parliament is left to approve this new rule.  European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has declared GMOs safe for cultivation and has just launched an open consultation to renew applications of GM food and feed authorized, in order to further check the GM safety. But there is still some European states reluctant to introduce GM corps. For this reason, now each state can decide its own policy. Socio-economic or environmental reasons and the different land uses are the possible official excuses to deny the GM crops access into a member states.

In Europe there are still a lot of citizens who widely reject GM foods: according to Eurobarometer 2010 on food related risks, 27 percent of Europeans are very worried about GM in food and 39 percent is fairly worried. Thus, governments can take the decision to ban GM plants to follow the will of their supporters. The GMO cultivation proposal was effectively presented by the Commission in July 2010 and it has already been examined during several presidencies. The Environment Council of 9 March 2012 was not able to reach a political agreement, as a blocking minority of delegations still had concerns regarding some issues.

According to Italian Minister of the Environment, Gian Luca Galletti, “The agreement about differentiated GM crops introduction policy is the legislative priority in environmental sector during the Italian presidency”. With the concession to decide to restrict or prohibit the cultivation, each member state can specify in the application of the GMO company producer that the GMO cannot be cultivated on all or part of its territory, even before the European authorization to GMO.

Why GMOs are arriving?

So far, 52 GMOs have been authorized by EFSA but Europe has allowed the cultivation of just one GM maize variety (MON810) produced by Monsanto. This product's genetic modification aims to protect the crop against a harmful pest and it was authorized for commercial purpose in 1998. Spain (137,000 hectares), Portugal (8,100) and Czech Republic (2,800) are the major producers of MON810, which has been also introduced in Romania and Slovakia.

In 2010, "Amflora" a GM starch potato, was authorized for cultivation and industrial processing in the EU, but it is no longer cultivated since 2011. According to the Corporate European observatory, the European openness is mainly due to some big business groups. They sustain an agreement in order to remove any differences in trade related legislation between the EU and US.

In fact, since 2013, negotiations between the USA and the European Commission to ratify a new trade agreement has been activated. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could contribute to the European economy for 120 billion of euro, and it is an attractive statement for business and enterprises. GM crop can already be sold in Europe and TTIP rules seem to guarantee the European law respect. However, Europe is trying to get close to US and business groups probably dream of better harmonized standards between the old and new world.

So are we prepared to the GM seeds and crops invasion? Consumer safety will be assured. Firstly, the risk assessment carried out by the EFSA will remain as strict as it is today. Then Europe has set up the European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL), which is responsible for reviewing detection procedures to identify GM organisms. In fact, each GM plants needs its own test, and tailored assays are an important part of EU authorisation procedure. 

Moreover, food containing unauthorised or potentially dangerous GMOs cannot be put on the market and the safety is assured by strict approval criteria. Finally, EU labelling rules ensure the freedom of choice for the consumer, which is informed whether or not genetic engineering was used to produce a food product. Probably, in this context the singularity is not in consumer rights, but in European decision-making process.

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