GMO news related to Belgium

24.07.2019 |

US pressure on EU to de-regulate new GM

One year after a landmark ECJ judgment that the EU’s GMO rules should apply to new genetic engineering techniques, industry groups and the US Government are keeping up pressure on the European Union to deregulate, with implications for food and bio-safety, as well as consumer choice.

On 25 July 2018 a key ruling was published by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which left no space for interpretation: existing GMO regulations must be applied to all products produced from new techniques of genetic engineering like CRISPR-Cas. Such techniques - often referred to by developers as ‘gene-editing’ or ‘new breeding techniques’ - have emerged since Europe’s GMO law was introduced in 2001, and are currently being applied by developers to food crops, trees, farm animals and insects. Dozens of patents have already been filed in this field by the big agrochemical corporations like Bayer, BASF, Dow Agrosciences and Monsanto.

09.07.2019 |

The EU must not de-regulate gene-edited crops and foods

Some members of the outgoing EU Commission and the agbiotech lobby want the regulations governing genetically modified crops and foods relaxed or scrapped to open markets for gene-edited products. But this goes against the science underpinning the technology and could put the public and environment at risk, writes Dr Michael Antoniou.

Dr Michael Antoniou is molecular geneticist at King’s College London

Some members of the outgoing European Commission want to change the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops to accommodate the products of new gene-editing techniques, often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”. The “initiative” will be taken up by the new Commission after this year’s elections.

28.06.2019 |

EFSA gene drive working group fails independence test

Gene drive, a new genetic engineering technique potentially as powerful as it is controversial, is undergoing regulatory evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But as a majority of experts tasked to assess the technology’s potential risks have financial links with organisations developing the technology, the assessment is mired in conflicts of interest. Time for the EU Parliament to increase the pressure on the agency to tighten its independence policy.

Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are still not in the past for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): a look at the agency’s working group on the risks associated to the gene drive technology makes this quite clear. Two-thirds of its members have financial links with organisations developing this technology. For instance, two of the appointed experts are receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn funds lobby work in favour of the technology. Even according to EFSA’s own, rather weak, independence policy, one of these appointments should not have been made due to obvious conflicts of interest.

So why did EFSA put together such a problematic expert panel on an issue that is this sensitive? The agency has defended its choices, stating that the appointments are compliant with its independence rules – a claim which is in one case is simply incorrect. Apart from showing that EFSA does not therefore seem to properly implement its own rules, the fact that several other grave conflicts of interest did not even trigger the policy demonstrates that there are still severe loopholes.

After so many years of EFSA’s poor implementation and partial disregard of repeated EU Parliament requests to fix its independence policy, wouldn’t it be time for Parliamentarians to step up the pressure on this EU agency?

17.06.2019 |

New GMOs: Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Did you think GM crops and foods had pretty much gone away in Europe? Now they’re set to return.

If lobbyists get their way, new genetically modified (GM) crops, foods, and farm animals will appear in our fields and on our dinner plates – with few or no safety checks and no labelling.

These new GM crops and foods are produced with so-called gene-editing techniques. Gene-edited organisms already developed include super-muscled pigs (similar to the one in the image above), a non-browning mushroom, and a soybean that produces altered fats.

GMO companies are also planning to market a new generation of gene-edited herbicide-tolerant crops, including wheat. These plants are engineered to survive being sprayed with large amounts of toxic herbicides, such as those based on glyphosate.

Gene-editing techniques are often called “New Breeding Techniques” (NBTs). But they are not breeding techniques. They are artificial laboratory GM techniques that result in the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

17.04.2019 |

Industry studies behind EU food safety assessments must be public

Defeat for agribusiness lobby

The European Parliament voted today to introduce new transparency rules for EU food safety assessments, as part of the EU’s "general food law". The amended law will oblige the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to publish the industry studies used in European safety evaluations of products that can end up in food – such as pesticides, GMOs and animal feed additives.

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “The chemical industry will still test the safety of their own products, but at least now the studies will be published so that independent scientists can scrutinise their contents and the advice EFSA gives to lawmakers. EFSA has in the past privileged corporate interests over the public’s right to know, so we will be watching closely to see that the new rules are properly applied.”

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Corporate Europe Observatory commented, "This victory is the result of many years of campaigning by scientists and citizens, in particular the Stop Glyphosate European Citizens Initiative (ECI). While this reform should have been much broader, it is a rare defeat for agribusiness lobbyists, despite their attempt to derail and hollow out the measure. But the battle isn’t over, because industry will be looking for loopholes, and we will have to ensure this transparency law is meaningfully implemented."

12.03.2019 |

EU liberal party forced to end corporate sponsorship after Macron pressure

The EU’s liberal political party has been forced to end corporate donations after complaints from Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche over funding received from agrichemical giant Bayer.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) brings together liberal parties from across Europe and is the fourth biggest political family in the European Parliament. Alde have been courting Mr Macron’s centrist party as future allies after pan-EU elections in May.

On Wednesday Hans van Baalen, Alde chairman, said the party would no longer allow private sector companies to sponsor stands at its political events or give corporate donations after controversy over money received from Bayer in 2017.

31.01.2019 |

After years of deadlock and political nightmares, are we finally ready to change the discussion on GMOs?

What care ethics can bring to the conversation

Today, the European Parliament backed four objections against the authorisation for import of new GM plants into the EU (two maize, one oil seed rape and a cotton), bringing the total number of such objections to 31 in just over three years. None of these 31 GMOs opposed by the European Parliament received a political backing from Member states. Nevertheless, the European Commission decided to override this opposition and to authorize 24 of them. These GM plants are mainly imported from North and South America and are used as animal feed.

In this article, we could discuss the characteristics of these four new GMOs and explain, for example, how some are tolerant to glufosinate, a dangerous herbicide, toxic for reproduction, and banned in the EU - but this would only be a repetition of so many articles that we have published over these last 3 years.

Why and how did we end up in this political stand-off? How did we come to such a deep misunderstanding between a majority of EU citizens, who are opposed to this technology in their food and fields, and the agro-chemical industry seemingly usually supported by the EU Commission?

08.01.2019 |

Detailed Expert Report on Plagiarism and superordinated Copy Paste in the Renewal Assessment Report (RAR) on Glyphosate

Introduction

The classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015 by the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency IARC triggered a public debate on why this body’s verdict was at odds with the European Union’s “clean bill of health” for the chemical. The question arose at to whether relevant parts of the risk assessment of glyphosate were not actually written by scientists working for Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), but by the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) – the coalition of pesticide companies submitting the application. This suspicion could not be satisfactorily cleared up during the hearings of the European Parliament‘s Special Committee on the Union‘s authorisation procedure for pesticides (PEST). Therefore in response, a group of parliamentarians with different political affiliations commissioned the present study.

16.10.2018 |

New GM ‘eradication’ techniques pose grave threat to ecosystems

Why we need an international moratorium on so-called “gene drive”

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Gene drive allows for modification of entire wild populations

Concerns around the contamination of natural populations seem to have been completely ignored in the development of this new technique, known as gene drive, which if unimpeded will enable humans to modify entire populations of living organisms in just a few generations. Gene drive allows for the bypassing of hereditary laws and the passing of a gene from one parent to almost all its descendants, whatever the genes of the other parent. In this way, it is, for example, possible to pass a female sterility gene through genetically modified males and - in theory - eradicate a whole population.

Proponents of this technique usually present extremely exciting possible uses like a reduction of the number of mosquitoes responsible for the malaria epidemic, or the eradication of an imported rat population that is endangering the ecosystem of New Zealand. These indeed sound great if we forget that the consequences could be dire.

09.08.2018 |

Stop illegal "new GM" field trials – NGOs to Juncker

Commission urged to clamp down on illegal GMO releases and imports

In the wake of the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that certain new techniques of genetic engineering do fall under EU legislation on GMOs, a coalition of NGOs including GMWatch has written to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asking him to take action against EU member states that have permitted field trials with new GMOs outside the GMO legal framework. The "rogue" member states include the UK, Sweden, Finland, and Belgium.

The NGOs' letter calls on Juncker to remind EU member states that they must stop all ongoing and planned releases in the environment that are not in accordance with the GMO legislation. Should a member state fail to comply immediately, then the Commission should launch an infringement procedure. The letter also asks Juncker to enable EU member states to ensure that GMOs derived from new genetic engineering techniques do not enter the EU without market authorisation. For this purpose, the EU should task the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL) to develop methods for the detection of GMOs (authorised and unauthorised) developed through new genetic engineering techniques.

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