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SCIMAC concerned over EU plans on GM crop co-existence

Cross-industry GM crop stewardship group SCIMAC has described as ‘ill-conceived’ and ‘divisive’ the European Commission’s plans, unveiled today, allowing individual Member States to impede or prohibit the cultivation of EU-approved GM crops at a national level without science-based justification.

Far from unblocking the 12-year EU logjam on GM crop approvals and allowing more progressive Member States to move forward with the technology, a stated objective for the Commission’s nationalisation plans, SCIMAC is concerned that the new arrangements could lead to further discriminatory barriers and delays.

In the first instance, and with immediate effect, the Commission has announced that national or regional co-existence measures can be used indiscriminately by Member States to deliver politically-motivated restrictions on farmers’ ability to grow GM crops.

This is a complete U-turn on the Commission’s previous advice, which stipulated that co-existence measures within the EU must be science-based and proportionate, and respect individual farmers’ freedom to choose between GM, conventional and organic crop production.

Crucially, the European Commission has also ditched its earlier recommendation that the statutory EU labelling threshold of 0.9% for unintended GM presence should be the common basis for co-existence measures. It now appears that lower thresholds can be adopted at a national level, paving the way for a chaotic array of different thresholds and co-existence arrangements across the EU, with no requirement to justify the scientific or technical basis for any measures adopted.

“These ill-conceived and divisive plans amount to a serious dereliction of regulatory responsibility by the European Commission,” said SCIMAC Chair Bob Fiddaman. “At a time when European agriculture needs access to all available tools to address the major challenges of food security and climate change, the Commission is set to create an EU-wide charter for discrimination against the products of agricultural biotechnology.

“The implications of this move – for the single market, for international trade, for European farming competitiveness, and for future research investment within the EU – could be extremely damaging and far-reaching. By establishing the basis for future innovation to be blocked or restricted without scrutiny or justification, the Commission risks consigning European agriculture to a technological backwater at a time when farmers in other countries around the world are scaling up their adoption of advanced biotech crops and traits.”

SCIMAC is calling on Member State government and MEPs, who have not been formally consulted on these arrangements, to press for urgent changes which will ensure that the established EU-wide GM labelling threshold of 0.9% is upheld, and that decisions relating to the approval, cultivation and use of GM crops within the European Union continue to be guided by internationally recognised obligations that any trade restrictions must have a scientific basis, and be justified in terms of human health or environmental safety.

“Effective co-existence means farmers can make a genuine choice between growing conventional, organic and GM crops. It should not be treated as a pro- or anti-GM issue - the aim of co-existence is to permit choice and freedom to operate whatever the production method involved,” said Mr Fiddaman.

“SCIMAC represents those sectors of the agricultural supply chain, from plant breeders and seed merchants through to farmers and grain handlers, who will deal with the issue of GM crop co-existence in practice. Once safety has been addressed through science-based regulation, we believe the market-place - not politicians - should determine the technology’s uptake and availability.

“SCIMAC members remain committed to finding practical solutions which will allow the responsible development of new technology, its co-existence with all other farming methods, and the provision of genuine choice to growers and consumers alike,” concluded Mr Fiddaman.

ENDS

Notes for editors
SCIMAC has highlighted the following seven key objections to the Commission’s approach:

1. Disrupts the single market
The Commission’s approach threatens to undermine and disrupt the integrity of the EU internal market by allowing different Member States or regions to impose arbitrary and unscientific criteria to restrict the cultivation of approved GMOs, including the application of varying threshold levels for GM presence below the 0.9% statutory EU labelling requirement.

2. Establishes a two-tier market disadvantaging the EU food chain
Allowing Member States to disregard the established 0.9% GM labelling threshold in setting their own national cultivation rules could open up a two-tier market, in which imported GM crops circulate freely while cultivation of the same crops can be restricted within the EU, placing Europe’s farmers, food industry and consumers at a competitive disadvantage.

3. Threatens the market for conventional seed
Allowing Member States to disregard the established 0.9% GM labelling threshold in setting their own national cultivation rules will effectively impose a de facto EU threshold level of 0.1% or below for GM presence in conventional seed. This is likely to result in damaging cost implications for seed supply to the EU, particularly as the number of GM crops and traits in commercial cultivation globally is predicted by the EU’s own Joint Research Centre to increase significantly over the next five years.

4. Undermines free-market principles
In relation to GM crop authorisation, the role of Government should be to protect the safety of consumers and the environment. It is contrary to fundamental free market principles to impose arbitrary, opinion-based or politically-motivated criteria to the GM crop approvals process. Such intervention in the market place is entirely inappropriate for national Governments, and by denying producer and consumer choice would undermine the basis of the EU as a free trading economy.

5. Abandons EU legal principles and WTO obligations
The Commission’s proposals conflict directly with the European Union’s own guiding legal principles of non-discrimination, proportionality and practicality, and disregard internationally recognised obligations which stipulate that trade restrictions must have a scientific basis, and be justified in terms of human health or environmental safety.

6. Discourages research and innovation
The proposals send a negative signal of the EU’s attitude towards agricultural science and technology, offering no long-term certainty for future research investment within the EU. Ultimately the consequence of such a move would be to deter research investment, stifle innovation and block access to the tools EU farmers may need to help address the major challenges facing 21st century agriculture.

7. Establishes a damaging precedent for agricultural science and technology
By abandoning the established legal principles of science-based authorisation according to health and environmental safety, the proposals set a potentially damaging precedent beyond GM crops for the future regulation and application of modern, science-based agriculture generally within the EU.

13th July 2010

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