Jan. 11, 2008
The European Parliament's Agriculture Committee remains divided on the issue of whether the EU should relax its -zero tolerance" attitude to imports of non-EU approved genetically modified products. At a Committee hearing in December, industry representatives repeated warnings that the current policy could interrupt supplies of feed. However, while UK MEPs advocated a move to greater flexibility, those from Germany, France and Poland adopted a much more cautious stance.
The hearing, organised by Dutch MEP Jan Mulder, invited three experts to highlight problems and economic consequences of the EU GMO approval procedure. Both Antonio Tavares from European farmers' group COPA-COGECA and Tony Bell from UK feed company BOCM Pauls repeated concerns expressed last year about the difficulty in sourcing sufficient EU-approved or GMO-free feed supplies (Agrow No 526, p 10). This could eventually lead to rising costs for farmers, falling EU meat production and more food imports, they argued.
The industry representatives pointed out that faster approvals and increasing GM crop production in the Americas are already affecting supplies of maize and soybeans. Approvals of new GM maize lines take a maximum of 15 months in the US, but a minimum of 30 months in the EU, said Mr Bell. The introduction of new GM maize lines in the US, coupled with the EU's zero tolerance policy, meant that EU imports of maize by-products dropped sharply in 2006/07, he added. The planned introduction of new types of GM soybeans in the US in 2008/09 will reduce future supplies of soybean products to the EU food and feed industry, he said.
The European feed industry is urging faster EU approval times for GM crop lines to keep pace with those in the main exporting countries. In the short term, it is pressing for a more "workable" system that adopts realistic thresholds for the low-level presence of GM material. The industry has already proposed a more flexible system that allows the import of GM products that have been cleared as safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or have been approved by another OECD country (Agrow ibid). The EU should base its decisions on EFSA opinions and not on political views, said Mr Tavares, echoing calls made by German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer recently (see this issue, p xx).
The third presentation to the Committee hearing took rather a different stance. Joachim Koester, former director of the European branch of Brazilian soybean processor IMCOPA, was much less in favour of changing the EU's policy towards GMOs. He argued that it was the responsibility of third countries' exporters to adapt to EU demand for non-GM products, rather than for the EU to change its requirements.