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New flexible approach to GMO cultivation in the EU

A new flexible approach to GMO cultivation has been outlined by the European Commission today which seeks to achieve the right balance between maintaining an EU authorisation system and the freedom for member states to decide on GMO cultivation in their territory.

Whilst keeping unchanged the EU’s science-based GM authorisation system, the Commission is proposing EU member states are given the freedom to allow, restrict or ban the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on part or all of their territory.

Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli said:

“Last March, the Commission promised to present a comprehensive proposal on our future policy vis- -vis GM cultivation by the end of the summer. Today we deliver on that promise. The concrete measures adopted today will allow member states the freedom to decide on GMO cultivation. Experience with GMOs so far shows that member states need more flexibility to organise the co-existence of GM and other types of crops such as conventional and organic crops.”

The Commissioner added: “Granting genuine freedom on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks also necessitates a change to the current legislation. I stress that, the EU-wide authorisation system, based on solid science, remains fully in place.”

“This means that a very thorough safety assessment and a reinforced monitoring system are priorities in GMO cultivation and are therefore being pursued vigorously. The Commission is committed to follow up actions on them before the end of the year,” he said.

The adopted package consists of:

– a Communication explaining the more flexible approach under existing legislation and the proposed small amendment to it;

– a new Recommendation on co-existence of GM crops with conventional and/or organic crops which better reflects the possibility under the existing legislation for member states to handle the co-existence of GM and other types of crops.  It gives member states flexibility to define such co-existence measures and allows them, for example, to aim at levels of unintended GMO presence that are lower than the 0.9 per cent labelling threshold of the EU legislation.

– a draft Regulation proposing a change to the GMO legislation (Directive 2001/18/EC) to allow member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory, to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

As of today, a more flexible approach towards cultivation:

The strict authorisation system already in place, which is based on science, safety and consumer choice, will remain the same.

With the new freedom given to member states to decide on cultivation, a strong signal is sent to citizens that Europe takes into account their concerns, which may vary from one country to another, regarding GMOs. The new approach aims to achieve the right balance between maintaining an EU authorisation system and the freedom for member states to decide on GMO cultivation in their territory. The proposal delivers on President Barroso’s political guidelines, presented in September 2009. Adding this freedom to the legislative framework for GMOs should enable the authorisation system for GMOs to function effectively. As a first step under existing legislation, today’s new Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national co-existence measures replaces the previous recommendation of 2003.

The previous Recommendation made a direct link between the establishment of co-existence measures and the respect of the 0.9% threshold for labelling as GM food, feed or products intended for direct processing. Member states were advised to limit co-existence measures (e.g. length of distances between GM and non-GM fields) to comply with 0.9% GM presence in other crops.

Experience gained over the last years shows that the potential loss of income for non-GM producers, such as organic and sometimes conventional producers, is not limited to exceeding the labelling threshold. In certain cases, the presence of GMOs in certain food products may cause damages to operators who would wish to market them as not containing GMOs.

The non-binding guidelines included in the new Recommendation on co-existence better reflect the possibility provided in the existing legislation (Article 26a of Directive 2001/18/EC) for member states to adopt measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops. This also allows for measures aiming to limit GMO content in conventional food and feed to levels below the labelling threshold of 0.9%. The Recommendation also clarifies that member states can establish “GMO-free” area and this new Recommendation provides better guidance to member states to develop co-existence approaches. The European Co-existence Bureau will continue to develop together with member states best practices for co-existence as well as technical guidelines on related issues.

Legal certainty for the future:

The proposal for revising Directive 2001/18/EC aims to secure legal certainty for member states when they decide on GMO cultivation on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks. To this end, the Commission proposes to include a new article (26b), which would be applicable to all GMOs that will be authorised for cultivation in the EU, either under Directive 2001/18/EC or under regulation (EC) N°1829/2003. Member states will be able to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation in part or all of their territory without recourse to the safeguard clause. Their decisions will not need to be authorised by the Commission, but member states will have to inform other member states and the Commission one month before the adoption of their measures. The member states will also have to respect the general principles of the Treaties and the Single Market, and be consistent with the international obligations of the EU.

At the same time, the EU authorisation system, based on scientific assessment of health and environmental risks will be maintained and further improved, thus ensuring the protection of consumers and the functioning of the internal market for GM and non-GM seeds, as well as for GM food and feed.

The legislative proposal will be adopted through co-decision with the European Parliament and the Council.

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