Press release

EU Ombudsman: Clear maladministration by the Commission on GMOs

We need political leadership that stands up for its own GMOs approval system and helps inform the public.

Brussels, 23 February 2016 - At the beginning of this year, the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly decided[1] that failure by the Commission to authorise genetically modified products for food and feed within a reasonable time constituted maladministration. Why is that? Because the Commission is obliged by the democratically agreed legal framework for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to authorise safe GM products for import. With her decision, Emily O’Reilly recognised that political obstacles cannot justify maladministration and called on the Commission to comply with its legal obligations.

Decisions or lack there of in this area are decisive to the competitiveness of a key part of the agri-food chain, the largest employer in Europe today (30 million jobs in 2014 – 13.4% of total employment and 3.5% of the EU GDP). The European Commission recognises the potential losses caused by the EU being cut off from GM imports: “banning GM imports means doing away with our capability of producing food” – said Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis in his speech in front of ENVI committee MEPs at the beginning of June last year.

The EU depends on imports for over 80% of its vegetable proteins. Indeed, every year, we import 34 million tonnes of GM soya beans, which equates to the weight of all Europeans put together, and as Commissioner Andriukaitis put it “there is very little non-GM soya on the world market and the little there is, is way more expensive”. Economically speaking, the EU Commission estimated that the cost of disruptions in GMO trade could amount to € 9.6 billion per year.

Although a number of EU Member States continue to regularly vote against the European Food Safety Authority’s positive opinions on GMO approvals, it is important to note that there has never been a qualified majority against any approval. In fact, even a simple majority against is usually not met, as the Commission has pointed out. Moreover, even Member States who routinely vote against import approvals then import and use the products when they are finally approved.

The scientific evidence could not be clearer: EFSA-assessed GM crops are (at least) as safe as conventional crops. Decision makers who continue to cast this into doubt should explain why they trust unfounded scaremongering more than the verdicts of renowned organisations including their own European Food Safety Authority, the European Academies of Science[2], the World Health Organisation[3], and the European Commission itself[4].

What is needed now is political leadership that stands up for its own approval system and helps inform the public. The European Parliament has risen to this challenge already once, when on 28 October 2015, MEPs clearly rejected a proposed moratorium on new GMO authorisations, along with the even stronger rejection of the Commission’s proposal to allow national bans on the use of safe, EU-approved (imported) GM products.

Approving safe new products within legally prescribed and predictable timelines is the most obvious and linear generator of innovation, jobs and growth; something the Parliament must keep in mind the next time it is called upon to vote on a GMO approval file.

About EuropaBio

EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, promotes an innovative and dynamic European biotechnology industry. EuropaBio and its members are committed to the socially responsible use of biotechnology to improve quality of life, to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure diseases, to improve the quality and quantity of food and feedstuffs and to move towards a biobased and zero-waste economy. EuropaBio represents 77 corporate and associate members and bio regions, and 16 national biotechnology associations in turn representing over 1800 biotech SMEs. Read more about our work at www.europabio.org.

[1]Decision of the European Ombudsman from 15 January 2016 regarding the Commission’s delays in the authorisation of applications for GM food and feed between 2012 and 2014.

[2]‘Planting the future’, EASAC, June 2013

[3]Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods’, WHO, May 2014

[4]‘A Decade of EU-funded GMO Research (2001-2010)’, European Commission,  2010