European NGOs warn GMO approvals process carries ‘unacceptable risk’

June 7, 2019 by Staff Reporter

More than 40 organisations from science, environmental protection, lobby control, food production and agriculture have signed a joint letter calling for a halt to the approval processes for GMO applications currently in the pipeline.

The joint letter highlights the likelihood that the outgoing EU Commission might approve around a dozen genetically engineered plants before handing over – and that this rush to approval carries unacceptable risks for citizens and the environment.

While the European elections have seen many new MEPs installed in the European Parliament, the new European Commission (EC) which oversees GMO approvals won’t change over until October. In that time gap the EC is likely to approve a number of new GMOs for both import and cultivation. In addition, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Commissioner responsible for health and food safety (DG SANTE) has said publicly that the EC will seek to loosen up GMO regulations in Europe, while agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has admitted that DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”.

Beyond GM joined groups across the EU – including Testbiotech, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE), Gene-Ethical Network (GeN), GeneWatch UK, Global 2000, Save our Seeds (SOS),  Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL), Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), Slow Food Germany, and many others in writing to EU Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis and demanding:

  • no further approvals of the pending applications based on current EFSA opinions
  • the establishment of higher standards for risk assessment
  • the reorganisation of responsibility for the protection of health and the environment in the upcoming new EU Commission to make sure that the protection of health and the environment is given the highest priority in the GMO policy of the EU.

At least twelve applications have been filed for approval, all of which have been assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Three of them concern genetically engineered maize that produce insecticidal toxins and are intended for cultivation in the EU.

Combined risks

Amongst these is MON810 (Bayer/ Monsanto), which is already grown in Spain and awaiting re-authorisation. There is a risk of uncontrolled spread from these plants: a wild species related to maize (teosinte) has proliferated in Spain for a number of years. Maize and teosinte can hybridize and may produce offspring with unintended biological characteristics and new risks for the environment.

Many of the plants have more than one genetically engineered trait. Amongst those, there are types of GE maize that produce up to six insecticidal toxins and are engineered to be resistant to several herbicides. The combined risks for food safety emerging from the various toxins were not investigated.

One of the genetically engineered maize plants meant for import inherits additional risks: maize MON 87411 produces a so-called double strand RNA (dsRNA). These biologically active molecules are taken up into the intestine of insects when they eat the plants; from here they can then interfere with gene regulation and cell metabolism. This will kill the insects feeding on the plants. However, the safety of these plants in regard to humans and the environment cannot be demonstrated since the underlying biological mechanisms are highly complex.

Around 70 genetically engineered plants are already allowed for import and usage for food and feed in the EU. There are no studies on long-term or combined health effects arising from diets with containing a mixture of these plants. In recent years, the EU Parliament has repeatedly voted against further EU market approvals. However, these votes were completely ignored by the EU Commission. Now, the signatories to the letter are concerned that the EU Commission will allow a further dozen of these risky plants to enter the EU market.

You can read the letter here.