|30 June 2004
THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear friends and colleagues,
RE: EUROPEAN MINISTERS SPLIT ON MONSANTO’S GM MAIZE NK603
On 28 June, environment ministers from the European Union failed to agree on a proposal by the European Commission to authorise the import of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize NK 603 for animal feed and for industrial processing. This GM maize is tolerant to Monsanto’s own herbicide.
According to a press release by Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), the preliminary report on the vote count showed that nine EU ministers (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg) voted against the proposal; eleven ministers (Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden and UK) voted in favour while three ministers (Germany, Spain and Slovenia) abstained. The positions of Poland and Malta were unclear at the time. (“Monsanto GM Maize Not Authorised by EU”, 28 June 2004 press release: see http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/monsanto_gm_maize_not_auth_28062004.html).
A detailed FoEE briefing on GM maize NK 603 is available at http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/pending/nk603briefing.pdf
The rejection by the countries concerned is based on health concerns over human and animal safety.
According to FoEE, "This is the sixth time in a row that the European Commission has failed to convince the member states to approve a genetically modified organism. The Commission wants to show the public that there is a thorough safety assessment for any adverse impact on public health. What they achieve is the contrary. It is becoming more and more clear that the authorities in Europe are deeply divided over the subject of GM."
Under European Union law, when an application is made by a company to market a GMO or GMO product in an EU Member State, and there is no consensus among other Member States, then the European Commission in Brussels will step in. The Commission will seek advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which provides the various scientific panels that carry out environmental risk and human and animal health assessment. Lack of consensus among these scientists involved has also occurred. If the EFSA supports an application, the Commission will draft and adopt a proposal to allow the import of the GMO or GM product concerned. This is then transmitted to the Standing Committee on Release of GMOs into the Environment or the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health depending on the intended use of the GMO or GM product concerned. These Standing Committees consist of representatives of the 25 Member States.
Decisions are made by a “qualified majority” vote. This means that 88 votes out of 124 are required. The votes are weighted among the Member States according to their size, for example Germany has 10 votes, Cyprus 2.
If the Standing Committees cannot reach a qualified majority vote to adopt or reject a European Commission proposal, the next decision level is the Council of Ministers (comprising of environment or agriculture ministers from the 25 Member States, depending on the intended use of the GMO or GMO product). If a qualified majority of Ministers support the proposal there is authorization for import. A qualified majority to reject will also be final. However, failure to obtain a qualified majority vote results in the final decision to be taken by the European Commission. This means that an “approval” in the EU can be based on lack of scientific consensus over the safety and environmental impacts of the GMO or GMO product concerned, as well as continuing objections by a number of Member States.
Monsanto’s application for the import of NK 603 maize is being considered in two parts. The 28 June vote was on the import and use of the GM maize for animal feed and for industrial processing. The Council of Environment Ministers had a split vote, whereby there was no qualified majority to accept or reject the European Commission’s proposal to authorize the import.
Separately, on 25 June, the European Commission adopted another proposal for a decision to be taken by the Council of Agriculture Ministers to authorize the placing on the market of food and food ingredients derived from NK603 maize for human consumption. This came after a failure by the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health to reach a qualified majority decision. Agriculture ministers will vote on this use for human consumption within three months from 25 June. If the agriculture ministers also fail to agree, the Commission will decide whether the import of NK 603 maize will be allowed without the full support of Member States.
The press statement by FoEE lists the six consecutive controversial votes on GMO approvals by EU member states since December 2003:
* 8 December 2003. Vote on maize BT11 for food at the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health. Result: no qualified majority. 6 in favour; 6 against; 3 abstentions.
* 18 February 2004. Vote on maize NK 603 for import and use in feed and industrial processing at the Standing Committee of Release of GMOs into the Environment. Result: no qualified majority. 9 in favour; 5 against; 1 abstention.
* 26 April 2004. Vote on maize BT11 for food at the Council of Agriculture Ministers. Result: no qualified majority 6 in favour; 6 against; 3 abstentions.
[Note: The import of processed BT11 as corn oil, corn flour and corn starch has already been authorised since 1998. In May 2004 the European Commission authorised the GM sweet corn to be sold as whole grain, fresh or canned, for food. The approval under the new EU laws ended the 5-year de facto moratorium and is valid for ten years, with mandatory labeling. However, Syngenta, the successful applicant, almost immediately announced that it will not market the approved GM maize. This is attributed to consumer rejection and the continuing objections by 6 Member States.]
* 30 April 2004. Vote on maize NK 603 for food at the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health. Result: no qualified majority. 8 in favour; 5 against; 2 abstentions.
* 16 June 2004. Vote on oilseed rape GT 73 for import and use in feed and industrial processing at the Standing Committee of Release of GMOs into the Environment. Result: no qualified majority. 9 in favour; 12 against; 4 abstentions.
* 28 June 2004. Vote on NK 603 for import and use in feed and industrial processing at the Council of Environment Ministers. Result: no qualified majority. 11 in favour; 9 against; 3 abstentions (preliminary report as of 28 June).
We will update you on the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the next steps by the European Commission.
With best wishes,
Chee Yoke Ling
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama