Press release

European Ombudsman on GMOs

Clear Maladministration by the Commission

Brussels, 19 January 2016

The European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly decided that between 2012 and 2014 the European Commission repeatedly failed to meet the legally binding deadline for processing applications for the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for food and feed and did not make its decisions within a reasonable time. “These failures constituted maladministration,” wrote O’Reilly.

“We welcome the Ombudsman’s decision and the recognition that political difficulties cannot justify maladministration. It is encouraging to see that in the last few months the Commission has improved its timelines and we very much look forward to the Commission approving products in compliance with its legal obligations,” commented Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio Secretary General.

EuropaBio has repeatedly called on the Commission to maintain a fully functional and predictable GM approval system, as the use of GM commodities continues to be substantial in the EU. Being so highly dependent on imports, it is crucial for the EU to avoid asynchronous approvals and risks of trade disruptions. This is why in addition to normalising the approval system at Commission level, it is important that increasing timelines for risk assessment at the European Food Safety Authority level receive due attention.

The biotech industry firmly believes that the most obvious and accessible generator of innovation, jobs and growth is the approval of safe new products, ensuring consumer safety while giving industry the consistency it requires to operate.

Notes to the editor

  • Decision of the European Ombudsman on the European Commission’s handling of authorisation applications for genetically modified food and feed.
  • The European Ombudsman:The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in EU institutions and agencies.
  • The complaint: EuropaBio, COCERAL and FEFAC jointly filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman on 12 September 2014, after having repeatedly raised their concerns with the European Commission concerning the unduly delayed authorisations for GM products and the resulting trade disruptions in the past. This complaint concerns delays caused at two stages of the authorisation process for GMO applications: (1) the stage at which the European Commission is bound by law to submit a draft implementing decision for vote to the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed within 3 months of a positive safety assessment by EFSA, and (2) the stage when the Commission adopts the draft implementing decision after the Appeal Committee reaches no qualified majority during a vote.
  • Evidence of illegal and unreasonable delays: The Commission acknowledged on several occasions its systematic failure to comply with the above-mentioned 3 month deadline. For products approved in 2015, this phase alone took over 16 months instead of 3 months as required by law. The Commission unilaterally caused a de facto moratorium from late 2013 to spring 2015 and admitted that “[i]f the result of the vote in the Appeal Committee is “No opinion”, the Commission is required by the GMO legal framework and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to adopt a decision on the application.”There are currently more than 40 GMO applications for the import of GM grain pending in the system.
  • The EU Food and Feed Chain stands united in continuing to call for a functioning, evidence-based EU policy on GMOs.