Predominant majority of EU governments set to oppose approval of GM maize

Greenpeace press briefing

Publication - February 10, 2014
Ministers meeting at the general affairs Council in Brussels on 11 February 2014 will consider the authorisation for the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) maize produced by agrochemical firm DuPont Pioneer and known as 1507. The EU’s own food safety authority has recognised the GM crop’s toxicity on butterflies and moths and warned about gaps in testing on the effects of 1507. The authorisation faces strong political opposition, as well as legal obstacles. Greenpeace is calling on the European Commission to listen to the scientific, political and legal arguments and withdraw its proposal to authorise the crop.

Environmental risks

The GM crop 1507 is engineered to produce a pesticide called Bt, which is toxic to insect pests. Since 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has repeatedly highlighted the impacts of the toxin released by 1507 on important pollinators, such as butterflies and moths [1]. As a result, the Commission twice asked DuPont Pioneer to submit more evidence proving that 1507 was safe [2]. DuPont Pioneer has so far refused to do so, but the Commission has nonetheless decided to call on EU ministers to approve the GM crop.

The maize is also engineered to be resistant to glufosinate ammonium. This herbicide will be banned in the EU due to its toxicity. Under EU law, all GM crops tolerant to herbicides must be subjected to a specific risk assessment. Such an assessment has not been carried out on 1507.

Political opposition

A large majority of EU countries is likely to oppose the authorisation of 1507. According to EU rules, a “qualified’ majority” is required for a Commission proposal to be approved or rejected. If such a majority is not reached, the Commission can decide whether to authorise or reject the crop.

However, if a predominant majority of countries expresses a clear opposition to a proposal, the Commission has said it would be prepared to reconsider. It has declared previously that it would act in such a way as to avoid going against any predominant position which might emerge against the appropriateness of an implementing measure” [3].

France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg, Greece, Romania and Hungary have all signalled their opposition to the authorisation. The UK, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Estonia are the only countries who are known to be in favour of an approval, while Germany and Bulgaria suggested they would abstain [4].

In a vote in January, the European Parliament also called on the Commission to withdraw the authorisation proposal [5].

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “The approval of this crop would be utterly irresponsible and legally flawed. The EU's own safety testing has shown that it is harmful to butterflies and moths and that there are still significant gaps in safety testing. On top of that, the GM crop would encourage use of a herbicide so toxic that it will be banned in Europe by 2017.”

Legal obstacles

Since the Commission’s original proposal in 2009, EFSA has issued several new scientific opinions casting doubt on the GM crop’s safety [1]. As a result, the Commission is required by EU law to re-submit a proposal that takes these opinions into account to a committee of EU member state experts [6].  However, the Commission has significantly altered its proposal and submitted it directly to EU ministers, bypassing the expert committee.

 

Notes:

[1] EFSA scientific opinion on 1507, 6 November 2012: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2934.htm and 25 October 2012: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2933.htm 

[2] Judgement of the General Court, CaseT‑164/10, 26 September 2013, paragraph 62.

[3] European Commission, Declarations on Council Decision 1999/468/EC, laying down the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission, 28 June 1999.

[4] Europolitics, ‘Ministers unlikely to reach qualified majority on GM maize’, 5 February 2014:

[5] European Parliament, ‘Food safety: MEPs oppose authorising new genetically modified maize’, 16 January 2014.

[6] European Commission document on the environmental risk assessment of herbicide-tolerant plants: www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/en/Publications/2013/Environmental-risk-assessment-of-herbicide-tolerant-plants, September 2009.

 

Contacts:
Marco Contiero - Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director: +32 (0) 477 777 034,

Greenpeace press desk: +32 (0)2 22 741 915,

 

For breaking news and comment on EU affairs: www.twitter.com/GreenpeaceEU

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.

Predominant majority of EU governments set to oppose approval of GM maize

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