EU delays approval of GM varieties

Commissioners hold off on approving eight new biotech traits.

Eight long-delayed biotech traits awaiting approval by the European Commission will have to wait some more. With a newly elected Commission scheduled to take office on Nov. 1, the Oct. 21 and Oct. 29 meetings of the College of Commissioners were the last scheduled opportunities to take action on biotech approvals before the transition. Failure to act this week punts the issue to the incoming commissioners.

“This is, once again, a disappointing failure of the European Union to live up to its own statutory requirements, World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and policy guidelines,” said Floyd Gaibler, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy.

“On paper, the EU is committed to a science based process with transparent standards and a reasonable timetable. In practice, the EU process is politically driven. This hurts U.S. farmers and traders, European livestock producers and of course European consumers, who are the biggest losers.”

European feed and livestock producers have estimated that consumers in the EU may pay as much as 5 billion euros annually in higher costs because of EU’s continual delays on biotech approvals. Those costs come in the forms of more expensive imported feeds and higher meat imports, which are necessary because the European livestock industry is currently denied full access to imported feed grains.

The traits at issue enhance corn, soy, canola and cotton varieties and have already been found to be safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). A broad coalition of European farm, feed and livestock industry groups had urged that these traits be approved for import in order to give Europe greater access to high quality, lower cost feed ingredients.

Despite having passed scientific and safety reviews, the familiar coalition of anti-technology advocacy groups has generated intense political pressure to block approval on non-scientific grounds.

“The EU continues to let politics overrule the science,” Gaibler said. “This is a key issue for the WTO, which found as long ago as 2006 that the EU’s slow walking of approvals is a violation of existing WTO commitments. This is also an issue as we work to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Agreements on paper aren’t worth much if contracting parties ignore their commitments, and if there is no enforcement.”

By declining to act, the outgoing commissioners have punted the issue to their successors. While the new College of Commissioners could act on the approvals immediately, incoming President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for a review of biotechnology approval policies during his first six months in office. It remains to be seen whether this review will become the excuse for further politically driven delays, USGC said.

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