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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

EU approval process for GM requires better balance between innovation and democratic accountability

Yesterday saw a debate between the EU's Europe ministers regarding the approval of Pioneer 1507 - a strain of genetically modified maize which has been developed by US firm DuPont to be pest-resistant. This is a fascinating case which sees the clash between EU legal procedures and scientific evidence on one hand, and public opinion and green lobbying on the other.

Unbelievably, DuPont first applied for EU approval back in 2001, but due to the political resistance to GM in the EU, this application was deliberately kicked into the long grass despite six separate positive opinions from the EU's food quango, the European Food Safety Agency. The wider context is a climate of political hostility which has resulted in Europe falling far behind the rest of the world when it comes to biotechnology - aside from Pioneer 1507 only one other GM crop has been approved in the past 15 years. The result is that biotech companies such as BASF and Monsanto have already left the EU and others could follow suit, with the loss of jobs, investment and trading opportunities.

Following a legal challenge by DuPont, the EU's General Court ruled that the EU was breaching its own rules by not taking a decision. Opinion among member states was divided, with five states including the UK minded to vote in favour, four including Germany minded to abstain and the remaining 19 minded to vote against (a formal vote was not actually held). Despite the large number of member states opposing the approval, no qualified majority was reached either way.

Under the EU's comitology process, when the result is indecisive, the Commission can chose to push ahead with its original proposal, and its looks set to do so (in fact during the debate the Council's legal service indicated it would be legally obliged to).

This is undoubtedly a problematic situation. On one hand, it is good that the Commission is heeding the independent scientific recommendation issued by EFSA. As EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg argued during the debate, member states should not pick and chose when to follow such advice and when to disregard it. On the other hand it is bad from a democratic perspective when the Commission forces through something opposed by a majority of member states and public opinion - the EU was rightly slammed for proposing to ban jugs of olive oil from restaurant tables following a similarly inconclusive vote.

The case therefore illustrates the need for more flexibility in the EU on issues where member states cannot agree and where public sensitivities need to be taken into account. As UK Europe Minister David Lidington argued during the debate:
"I've no wish to force any country that doesn't want to cultivate this variety of maize to do so... in the longer term the answer surely has to be some agreement under which we agree that those member states that want to have GM crops in cultivation are free to do it while those maintain a ban are free to do so as well."
Greater flexibility for member states to ‘go it alone’ in designing appropriate regulatory frameworks for GM was also one of the recommended in the recent Fresh Start report on the EU's impact on UK Life Sciences. This would be a good compromise - that way it would be down to national governments and parliaments to decide whether to allow cultivation of GM crops - and it would be down to national politicians in favour of this to show the requisite leadership to win over public opinion.


Rik said...

Kids, Healthcare, People's food you better keep your hands off as politician if you donot want trouble.

Anonymous said...

Democratic accountability has nothing to do with the eussr, note how the unelected commission can make a decision if there is no agreement between nations who have democratically elected governments.

They are the ones who introduce the laws so they could well be just rubber stamping what they wanted in the first place, welcome to the worlds most corruption ridden democratically deficient level of governance in the world.

Tobias L. Thaler said...

well, if people don't want it, then they don't want it. if they don't want GM and the don't want GM jobs, GM investments, then a democrat has to respect this. if legal procedures move in another direction (cause the don't want to deal with long term studies), it means they are simply wrong and have to be changed.
it's quite basic...

Rik said...

1. The West has to grow up. On things like energy, genetics there are no totally riskfree solutions.
One way or another always risks are involved only different ones.
make it 100% safe, means economic disadvantages. As make energy 100% clean simply pushes up the price and with that reduces competitiveness.

These proceses should however been properly managed. Which as this issue indicates is a problem.

2. Imho it is completely illusory that gen-food will not remain an issue and an important one.
Basically only to make workable with either completely forbidding it or strictly enforced and very clear labelling.
Basically somebody with Mrs Reding's IQ and my eyes should not be able to make a mistake when purchasing especially food.

3. I donot believe that it will be possible to have a freetradezone without one of these 2 solutions. As the rest of the world is a lot more relaxed proper labelling likely wil have to be it.

4. I donot commercially see any other way. Probably not only the tree- and hamster-huggers but also a lot of other people donot want to buy the stuff when it is gen-man.
You cannot have a proper functioning retail sector when they want to move somewhere else.
And you cannot have people feeling part of society when they are more or less forced to eat food they really find unacceptable. Whatever the reasons.
This is not 50% plus 1 stuff.

5.Same effects btw with immigration another hot issue. World forces more or less that it will happen. But allowing highly visible on top of things, mass immigration simply will alienate large groups of people.
This is a topic that will do that, immigration may be was an even bigger one.
With all sorts of consequences like massive LePen voting for instance and because of the spin used to defend it a massive credibility crisis for politics.

6. A solution will have to be found for that. One way or another alienating another large group however is not one.

7. Same btw for the scientific aspects (pushing new industries out) for other countries. You cannot force a EU country where there gen-food is acceptable and which wants to be in the forefront re the development to completely abolish that.

8. So from there bring it back to national level would be a solution.

9. In a way as there is very likely a high correlation between the anti-gen food and the pro-immigration crowd one could say they asked for it. But that is simply creating a new problem on top of the immigration issue. Makes the mess only bigger and will not bring a solution for immigration any closer. Likely puts 2 group against each other in society (even more than we see now).

Rik said...


10. On the Commission decision itself. As said this is not a 50%+1 thing. Would be far better for a relatively minor issue (only 1 product) to have done it otherwise. As would be a majority of the immigration related stuff.
However the Commission likes to go for confrontation. Not very wise for people that have clear problems overseeing the consequences of their own decisions. While with immigration as well as this dossier those consequences will still be there, visible for everybody at the time of the next election and long after that.

11.For reformers the best news available. It simply confronts the traditional pro-Euro groups with the clear disadvantages of the system.
And the roughly half that is already Euro-sceptic will see it as again another confirmation that the democratic creditials of the system are simply one big fake.

12. On Germany's behaviour. The coward way out. Typical Merkelian btw always running away for hard decisions.
Same we see with the Euro crisis (whatever one think of the management to control and solve it). The way Merkel was leading was largely decided by her personality not by the demands of the situation.
Within those personality restrictions see is a pretty good manager btw, much better than the average politician, who is usually a complete joke.
Which means she is the person that also when only hard solutions will do the job, still would go for time-buying, compromise, acceptable short term for the German voter, stuff. In other words even if you would consider the present solution the by far best there is you have to realise that it happened mainly by chance (the manager dealing with it simply always solves things that way), not by managerial competence (as the right choice for the occasion).
But within that sort of management she is really good, unlike most of the colleagues.

12. On the US trade agreement. Hard to see anything else than proper labelling will do the job. The US isnot going to abolish it.
And hardly this or any other freetrade agreement will be possible when the EU would become religious on gen food.
Anyway if I understand it correctly it should be completely off now as the US can not cherry pick as the EU is no Swiss cheese. Did somebody already called Obozo The Great on that btw.

14. Clearly as well that the present standards of labelling are simply insufficient. That should be the main priority imho. Any other thing could even jeopardise starting up the freetrade zone with the US.

Rik said...

One scientific evidence.

You never get that properly tested it is as simple as that, it is always a percentage of certainty.
And with things like food, their kids, healthcate people simply want an incredible low percentage of uncertainty. That is is simply in the nature of things.

Some of the side effects of large scale used drugs have first come up after a century (Aspirine in preventing heartdiseases).
Companies that have done the research on Food and Drugs hardly have a great reputation. Made worse because because the incidents get massive media coverage.
Like with a lot of politics they have a credibility issue and a sincere one (deserved or undeserved hardly matters imho).

You do some things that might have happened in nature but also some stuff that simply cannot happen in nature (at least not in such a short period).
Which simply means a huge limitation as you have no proper existing models to start with re that aspect.

Nearly all new technology has shown unwanted and unexpected side effects often first after decades and often nasty ones. Again made worse by all sorts of spin to hide it earlier.
These things simply erode confidence in the system it is as simple as that.

Effects re allergies (read 30% or so of the average population and rising) look simply not properly researched.

Enforcement at present of foodsafety is still pretty dubious. Eg a large number of vegs and fruits have still a large percentage of what is sold in shops over the safety limits.
One of the reasons people go for Bio food, simply one more proper check before you put it in your mouth or your kid's mouth.

And as said it is not a pure health and safety thing. It is also consumerbehaviour. Basically caused by the fact that a lot of people are simply not buying the research (and enforcement). There is a huge credibility issue as well.

Rik said...

P2 Research
On the other hand you clearly can see the potential advantages if things could be made to work.
Clear that you cannot keep testing for a century before it would be brought into real life.
re this the fastest (worse/shortest tester) largely will determine the speed of things.

Overall both sides have strong forces it simply needs to be managed well/better.

Anyway doing a Reding simply push things through on basis of your own simpletons version of the truth/facts will not work here. Like it didnot work on say immigration.
One of the huge mistakes made in decisionmaking on facts. First of all the facts are 9 out of 10 open for interpretation; not covering the whole issue uptil completely dodgy.

But the main problem is the fact that humans are part logical and part emotional and decide in that framework, not in a full logical one.
Made worse in things like here that politics and producers of this kind of stuff have sincere credibility issues.
When credibility problems take over basically things get largely emotional.

Again take Reding (or Wilders) not many will believe that she really is on top of the issue so there are already issues re technological skills. But even if she would be on this one (quod non) she carries with here the fact that for the other side of the table basically everything she does is simply suspect. Whether it is ok in that particular case or not hardly matters. The messenger gives a strong bias on the acceptability of the message.

We are in an enviroment where authorities have rapidly rubbished their credibility. A second wave of that. The first one was the 60s 70s.
This one is making things very complicated for themselves, hugely overestimating their capabilities in doing things, in an rapidly increasing complicated world and simply completely failing on a lot of things. Made even worse by the often infantile/debilic spin used to hide those failures. With internet info on top of that with all the characteristics of that.
That is the enviroment we are in.

That is why the EU will come under ever increasing attack. This process simply has now properly started there, thanks eg to people like Reding. But we still a) donot see the end of it and have no idea where it will stop.
But at the moment it looks like an own credibility destroying machine.

That is why it is hard to see how somewhat longer term Cameron can lose here, if he really goes for it and plays his cards more or less right. With a considerable margin as the other side is much much poorer.

Anonymous said...

So, Eurofascists, Open Europe, bought and paid for by global corporatists, are not lobbying for EUSSR approval of known carcinogenic food substitutes.

I'm stunned.



I'm stunned.

alexei said...

1. The fact that OpenEurope would regret, even for a second, the departure from Europe of such obnoxious, unethical companies as Monsanto and BASF, on the grounds of financial profitability, says it all.

2. "... the independent scientific recommendation issued by EFSA"
How on earth does OE expect us to just accept their say-so about this so-called "independence" If it's anything like the climate industry, one should understand that "scientists" these days who are keen to keep their jobs are unfortunately susceptible to manipulating data to produce the required conclusions.

3. OpenEUrope - I once had hopes you would provide an impartial and objective view on EU matters, but you now seem to be part of the problem, and increasingly out of touch with public sentiment.

Jesper said...

Not quite sure why Glufosinate isn't mentioned in the post, it was a big part of the Swedish concern.

But what might be more important is that if nations can't agree on an issue then it shouldn't be an EU-issue. Subsidiarity-principle?
Or is it super-ceded by some nagging-principle where nagging is done until EU-institutions get their way?