EU Commission admits safety concerns over GM food

Posted: 18 April 2006

New documents reveal that the European Commission has been approving genetically modified (GM) foods and crops despite having serious doubts over their health and environmental impacts, say two major environmetnal organisations.

In a joint statement, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace called this week for an immediate suspension in the use and sale of all GM foods and crops until the safety issues have been addressed.

They say the documents reveal the scientific arguments, put forward behind closed doors in January and February last year on behalf of the European Communities, in the GM trade dispute. It is unclear whether the UK Government or other member states had access to the documents when they voted on key GM decisions.

In the documents, the Commission argues that there are "large areas of uncertainty" and that "some issues have not yet been studied at all". They also reveal that:

  • On human safety: "there simply is no way of ascertaining whether the introduction of GM products has had any other effect on human health...there is no unique, absolute, scientific cut off threshold available to decide whether a GM product is safe or not."

  • On growing GM crops: "It is a reasonable and lawful position" that insect-resistant crops (the only GM crops being grown in the EU) should not be planted until all the effects on the soil are known.

  • On the environment: the documents say that a key scientific study that was used to support the environmental safety of a GM crop is "scientifically flawed".

  • There are big disagreements between the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU agency that is responsible for GM risk assessments. In one example, the Commission criticises the EFSA for not requiring further investigations after dismissing scientific evidence that showed that a certain GMO had negative effects on earthworms.

'Political scandal'

At the same time as the Commission wrote and submitted these documents to the WTO highlighting safety concerns, FOE and Greenpace say it:

  • pushed through the approval of seven GM foods over the past two years, despite a lack of support from the majority of member states. The UK voted in support of six of these approvals;

  • required member states to vote twice on proposals to lift national bans on GM products in five countries (November 2004 and June 2005). It was defeated in both votes even though the UK voted for the bans to be lifted.

  • Commercialised 31 varieties of Monsanto's GM maize for cultivation in the EU.

Friends of the Earth GM Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "This is a political scandal. The European Commission must call a halt to the sale and growth of all genetically modified food and crops given the serious concerns over their safety that have come to light.

"When the EU Commission broke the moratorium and forced GM foods into Europe, it told the public they were safe. But the Commission clearly knew this was not the case and was prepared to recognise the risk behind closed doors. The UK Government must now reveal whether it had access to these documents and whether it voted in support of GM foods while knowing the risks they posed."

Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace, Christoph Then said:"The truth is now out in the open for all to see. The released EU papers outline detailed scientific concerns about the safety of genetically modified food and crops."

"These revelations are astonishing; they show contempt for humans and the environment, and prove that Europe's safety net is not working. The European Food Safety Authority, on which the Commission depends for advice, comes out particularly badly and needs to be urgently and radically reformed."

Related links:

A comprehensive report on this matter has been written by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. It can be downloaded here.

The Commission's scientific arguments at the World Trade Organisations, outlined in two documents, can be downloaded here.

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