EU biotechnology concerns aired outside of T-TIP negotiations

Farm Forum

The United States and the European Union (EU) held the sixth round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Negotiations (T-TIP) in Brussels recently. While negotiations have progressed to the exchange of texts in several policy areas, formal discussion on issues such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures, including addressing the EU asynchronous biotechnology approval process are reportedly still in a conceptual stage.

Nonetheless, incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker singled out biotech as the only product specific category in his 12-page manifesto presented to the European Parliament at his nomination hearing. He stated his intent to review legislation applicable to the authorization of genetically modified organisms, stressing that, “it is simply not right that under the current rules, the Commission is legally forced to authorize new organisms for import and processing even though a clear majority of Member States is against. The Commission should be in a position to give the majority view of democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice, notably when it comes to the safety of the food we eat and the environment in which we live.”

Juncker’s statement is incorrect and misleading on two points: The legislation provides the Commission with the option to authorize applications for new events, but there is no obligation to do so, when there is no clear agreement of the Member State voting process following positive scientific opinions issued by the European Food Safety Authority. Second, a majority of Member States have voted in favor on almost all biotech events but under qualified majority voting (which applies under the EU system) the votes have resulted in no opinion either for or against.

In a July 15 address before the newly constituted European Parliament, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, reinforced earlier statements that the EU would not lower labor, environmental or health standards in the T-TIP negotiations. Citing the issue of approving GMOs, he stated, “We will not give a blanket approval of imports of GMOs.”

Amidst this ongoing debate, the European Commission has made no decision on authorizations of eight biotech crop events since last November despite receiving positive opinions from EFSA and successfully advancing through the two-stage Member State voting procedure. Following meetings and consultations last month in the EU, MAIZALL — The International Maize Alliance — recently forwarded a letter to EU Commission officials requesting the Commission to address these undue delays in the EU’s authorization system so that trade between our countries and our European customers can flow without unnecessary interruption or increased costs for European farmers and consumers.