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GMO safety studies - EU Parliament and Council get tough

GMO safety studies - EU Parliament and Council start to get tough
Comment by GM Free Cymru
19 December 2012

It looks as if the pressure is now really mounting on the Commission and on EFSA to get their houses in order with respect to GMO safety testing. 

On 7 December the European Council, under the guidance of the future Irish, Lithuanian and Greek presidencies, used some pretty firm language when it said (clause 301): "the Commission is expected to continue work towards a complete implementation of the December 2008 Council Conclusions concerning the EU policy in this field" (ie relating to GMOs). Note the phrase "complete implementation" - that is a diplomatic way of saying "Get your finger out! We are not best pleased with the way you have been evading the issue for four years!"

Then in Clause 302 Council said that it wanted progress on "a regulation giving Member States the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territories." Again that indicated a degree of impatience, and signalled that the Commission has just not tried hard enough to get a consensus among the member states as to how national GMO bans might be brought in.

On 18th December the journal "European Food Policy" reported (from the recent EFSA management board meeting) that there was now agreement between EFSA and the Commission that funds should be found for two-year feeding studies in rodents -- something they have steadfastly refused to contemplate in the past. Clearly the controversial Seralini study and the heavy criticism of EFSA's predetermined response to it have been influential in bringing about this apparent change of heart. Maybe the heavy pressure from NGOs and from the EU Parliament has also been crucial.

However, there is much about this "change of heart" that appears confusing. For a start, there seems to be a commitment to fund 90-day studies through the EU Grace Project, starting with a study on MON810. Why is there no commitment to study NK603, so that the scientific community can sort out, once and for all, whether it actually is dangerous to mammals? It is interesting that the Commission is not prepared to go with the EFSA line that even 90-day studies can be dispensed with - and that must be a response to political pressure. It is reassuring that the Commission appears to be prepared to re-write the Draft Implementing Regulation which is on its desk so as to make 90-day studies mandatory. (Of course, many MEPs, and maybe member states as well, want 2-year studies to be mandatory, and demands for this have been made by MEPs on the record.) 

There are three further concerns arising from the statements coming from EFSA and the Commission:

1. There is mention of a "research budget to test the method" for future 2-year feeding studies. Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, executive director of EFSA, volunteered EFSA to help design the long term studies looking at the methodology. So it could be a complete fudge - we might simply be talking about studies of study methodologies, on a desk rather than in a laboratory, instead of a proper feeding study TO TEST THE SAFETY of specific GM products. 

2. EFSA is clearly not competent to design 90-day animal feeding studies, let alone 2-year studies. It is vital that experimental protocols are designed by a group of scientists (including the Seralini team) who have actual feeding / safety study experience, and not just by EFSA in house or in conjunction with the GM corporations.

3. There is a strong suspicion that EFSA may be trying to get away with FEEDING STUDIES here, like many of the studies included in the GMO dossiers. These are not SAFETY or TOXICITY studies, but studies designed to find out whether there is nutritional equivalence - much cheaper, and designed (of course) not to find any physiological changes. As GM Watch has noted, if the GM industry has any involvement at all here, there is a strong possibility of scientific fraud, if we bear in mind some of the past procedures which they have got away with.

But we are seeing signs of progress. It's incumbent upon all those who are interested in GM food safety issues to press Parliament, the Commission and EFSA on exactly what has been agreed here, and to ensure that this is not just another stunt designed to appease the media and others who have been critical of EFSA's miserable track record.

NOTES:

Excerpt from the 100 page 18 month programme of the Council (1 January 2013 - 30 June 2014) prepared by the future Irish, Lithuanian and Greek Presidencies
Full text here: 
 http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/12/st17/st17426.en12.pdf

GMOs

301. On GMO cultivation, the Commission is expected to continue work towards a complete implementation of the December 2008 Council Conclusions concerning the EU policy in this field.

302. The Council will continue to work on the Commission proposal for a regulation giving Member States the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territories. The three Presidencies will continue to monitor possibilities for further progress on this important file, as all the compromise proposals presented so far by successive Presidencies have not gathered the necessary qualified majority