European plans for 'improving scientific consistency and transparency' on GM crops has prompted a guarded response.

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France

European commission plans for ’improving scientific consistency and transparency’ on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) have prompted a guarded response.

The commission, which is responsible for granting authorisation, faces crossfire between environmentally-conservative states, environmental bodies, and GMO-exporting countries.

While the newly-established European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should allow the commission to extricate itself from conflicts over ’Frankenstein foods’, the commission can only suggest how the autonomous EFSA should act.

To date, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Greece, Poland, and Hungary have banned commission-approved GMOs. 

Eight of the bans are considered unjustified by EFSA - and have been challenged at the World Trade Organisation. But the prohibitions have majority backing in the EU Council of Ministers.

Health commissioner Markos Kyprianou and environment commissioner Stavros Dimas propose ’practical improvements’ to demonstrate that commission decisions are based on ’high quality scientific assessment’. 

The commissioners want EFSA to ’liaise more fully’ with national scientific bodies to resolve ’possible diverging scientific opinions’, and to specify which protocols biotech companies should adopt to demonstrate the safety of their products. Moreover, the commission called for ’more explicit’ attention to long-term effects and bio-diversity issues.

Where national objections raise new scientific issues, commissioners are reserving the right to suspend authorisations, pending further consideration by the agency.

EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, fearing an undermining of EFSA independence, cautioned against ’any move that would politicize the already established independent science-based safety assessment process’.