News - January 23, 2018

‘Admission of GMOs up to Member States’

Albert Sikkema

The European Union should let individual Member States choose whether to allow GMO crops. This is the advice given by a group of scientists which includes Wageningen lawyer Bernd van der Meulen.

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The European policy regarding GMOs is completely stuck. Brussels keeps postponing decisions and advice concerning the risk estimations and admission of GMO crops, because various European countries are divided about the dangers and desirability of genetically modified crops. To overcome this stalemate, the decision whether to allow GMO crops should be taken by national governments, so say a group of scientists in a paper published in Nature Biotechnology earlier this month.

‘According to our proposal, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will still test the safety of GMO crops’, says co-author Bernd van der Meulen. ‘If the EFSA determines that a GMO crop is safe based on scientific substantiation, the European Member States can each decide whether they want to allow the GMO crop to enter their territory.’

This proposal implies a nationalisation of GMO policy. Is the European Commission ready for this? ‘The Commission already took a step in this direction with the opt-out regulation’, says Van der Meulen. Following this regulation, Member States can choose to refuse entry to a GMO crop that is allowed by the EU. ‘The idea behind this regulation was that Member States would take a less politically tinted stance on the safety of genetic modification, but this idea was proven wrong. The fully politicised admission system does not work.’

By making the safety analysis fully independent of the political decision-making process, the admission procedure can take place based on science. The political verdict about GMOs – do we want to allow them or not? – will then be something for the Dutch House of Representatives to decide. ‘As it is, the opponents of GMOs do not accept the safety analysis, because they do not want GMOs. This approach does not do the scientific assessment justice’, says Van der Meulen.

Decision making
The authors hope that their proposal will help the decision-making process regarding GMOs to move forward in the EU. The majority of the fourteen signatories work in plant sciences in various countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. ‘Each of them is knowledgeable about the EU GMO legislation, but from the view of different disciplines’, explains Van der Meulen, the only lawyer in the group.

Pandora’s box
Is the proposal promising within the EU? ‘No proposal in the GMO file is promising – one always opens Pandora’s box’, Van der Meulen answers. ‘But the European Commission will also see that the current GMO regulation is not sustainable in the longer term. A change must be made that will do justice to the positions of all parties involved.’