GMO PANEL'S FUTURE IN DOUBT AFTER BARRAGE OF CRITICISM
GM Free Cymru Press Release
15th March 2006 -- immediate
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has come under sustained and unprecedented attack from a variety of different quarters during recent months, largely because of the actions of its widely-despised GMO Panel. The future of that expert panel must now be in doubt, even if there are wholesale changes in its personnel and in its working methods.
NGOs and consumer groups all over Europe have long been dissatisfied with the work of the GMO Panel, accusing it of obsessive secrecy, a strong bias towards the GM industry, and a reluctance to take seriously the "precautionary" instincts of European consumers and many European governments. Since its formation, it has always given "positive opinions" of the GM varieties in the applications process, and it has always dismissed out of hand the attempts of various Governments (for example Italy, Austria, Hungary and Greece) to invoke the "safeguard clause" and to ban various GM crops from their territories. It has been seen -- rightly or wrongly -- as working hand in glove with the Commission to force through GM approvals for political reasons, against the wishes of European consumers.
In 2004 FoE Europe produced a damning report called "Throwing Caution to the Wind" on the workings of EFSA (1), and accused the Agency of repeated bias in favor of the biotech industry. It also claimed that EFSA's GMO panel had ignored views of scientists working for EU governments and had issued a string of hasty and ill-considered positive assessments on GMO safety. In May of last year the Italian Government was openly critical of the workings of EFSA (2), and further criticism came from voluntary groups who discovered that the EC case being presented to the WTO during the "GM moratorium" dispute with the US highlighted many concerns and uncertainties about GM crops which were directly contradicted by statements coming from EFSA (3). That caused considerable behind-the-scenes anger within the EU.
Also in 2005, EFSA attracted widespread condemnation for the manner in which it connived with Monsanto to keep the results of its MON863 "secret" 90-day rat feeding study away from public scrutiny or peer review, and then issued a positive opinion of the variety in the face of serious doubts about its safety being raised within the scientific community (4). With its reputation already dangerously damaged, EFSA arranged a "Stakeholder Platform" as part of a charm offensive, but found itself confronted by ten challenges from a determined and united front of NGOs and consumer groups (5). At the same time, Greenpeace attacked EFSA with a new report (6) which claimed that in its assessment of Bt11 maize it had failed to fulfill its legal responsibilities and had in effect been negligent.
With criticism directed at EFSA from an increasingly disenchanted European Parliament and from various European governments, pressure increased with the accession of the Austrians to the presidency of the EU. The Austrians immediately flagged up their intention to subject the GM approvals process to close scrutiny, and Agriculture and Environment Minister Josef Proell openly attacked EFSA in print in February (7). There were signs that the Commission's DG-SANCO was also becoming critical of the quality of some of EFSA's scientific opinions, and in spite of assurances on the record of its full confidence in the "excellent science" conducted by the GMO Panel, it instituted a full independent evaluation of the work of EFSA which contained many damning indictments of its working methods (8).
In another attempt to mount a charm offensive, EFSA met with eight representatives of NGOs in Parma on 22nd February, ostensibly to talk over "GM science." But at the meeting the EFSA Acting Chairman Herman Koeter and his GMO Panel members were left in no doubt that the NGOs had little confidence in their impartiality or in their ability to conduct objective science, and they were bombarded with many very specific criticisms (9). They made no commitments either to revisit unsound "GM opinions" or to alter their working methods, and things finally came to a head with the Environment Council Meeting on 9th March at which the NGO concerns were echoed over and again by European Ministers (10). Press reports referred to the "intense criticism" directed at EFSA by one speaker after another, and also reported that Commissioner Stavros Dimas (previously a staunch supporter of the Agency) now accepted that fundamental changes would have to be made to the GMO Panel's working methods.
Ironically, one of the very few voices heard in support of EFSA at the Environment Council meeting was that of the UK Environment Minister Eliott Morley, who argued that GM assessment procedures were basically sound. This was no great surprise, since the UK (with Ireland and Holland) has always voted for GM approvals and has consistently dismissed public concerns about GM. The Westminster government has also shown itself to be incapable of recognizing the abundant evidence of harm appearing in the GM scientific literature (11).
Commenting on the EU's dramatic loss of confidence in EFSA, GM Free Cymru spokesman Dr Brian John said: "I cannot see how the GMO Panel can continue to operate under present circumstances. It is now so heavily compromised, and so heavily criticised for its industry bias and connivance in fraudulent science, that it cannot possibly regain the confidence of either the EU or European consumers. We believe that all of the discredited GMO Panel members and its Acting Executive Director must now resign. A new Panel must be put in its place with a much more balanced representation, and its terms of reference must be rewritten. And while this goes on, the GMO approvals process must be frozen; it would be grossly irresponsible in the present circumstances for either EFSA or the Commission to do any further work regarding GM crops or foods."
Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru
(1) In November 2004 Friends of the Earth published "Throwing caution to the wind, a detailed critique of the EFSA and its work on GM foods". The report and recommendations can be downloaded here:
(2) Italy calls for independent EU research on GMOs REUTERS, Mon May 30, 2005 By Jeremy Smith
(3) See this:
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