The European Commission has shelved a legal opinion confirming that a new breed of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must undergo rigorous safety testing and labelling. This follows intense lobbying by the US government.
EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis meets US trade representative Michael Froman in the US in December 2015.
Internal Commission documents and correspondence obtained by NGOs under freedom of information law reveal that US representatives pushed to exempt plants and animals produced through gene-editing and other new techniques from existing EU GMO rules.
Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “The Commission must recognise that gene-editing is genetic engineering. It must come out of the bushes and reassure EU citizens that it won’t allow the GM industry to bypass rigorous safety tests and labelling. There are fundamental issues of public trust and transparency at stake, and the Commission should act accordingly.”
The documents – released by Greenpeace, Corporate Europe Observatory and GeneWatchUK – show that US pressure focussed on potential barriers to trade from the application of EU GMO law. It appears the US wants the EU to drop health and environmental safeguards on GMOs to pave the way for a transatlantic trade agreement (TTIP). The next round of TTIP negotiations starts on 25 April 2016 in New York.
Greenpeace trade expert Juergen Knirsch said: “If TTIP is agreed, the US government will always get its way. In fact, the EU will progressively weaken its standards and safeguards to suit the US, and any plan to better protect our environment and health would be neutralised before it hits the democratic scrutiny of the European Parliament.”
Nina Holland, researcher for Corporate Europe Observatory, said: “The biotech industry has waged an under-the-radar campaign to get new GM products absolved from GM regulation. The TTIP negotiations are seen by industry across the board and the US government as the perfect opportunity to block EU processes that are supposed to protect public health and the environment. The regulation of new GM techniques is a case in point.”
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, said: “Gene-edited crops and trees pose risks to the environment. Before they can be marketed, these risks need to be properly assessed. Farm animals, fish and insects could all be gene-edited in future. Changes to nature could be irreversible if this industry is not regulated”.