On the morning of January 13, during a plenary session of the European Parliament, a vote will be held on an important text, which through an amendment to Directive 2001/18/EC systematically defines the procedure for authorizing GMO cultivation in Europe, while at the same time giving member states the possibility to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation in their territory. The proposal to amend Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 has already been approved during the third meeting of the Trilogue on December 10.
In a press release issued on December 10, the Council emphasizes the autonomy granted to member states over choices regarding GMOs in their territories. However, after a careful reading, the prevailing impression is that the text that will be submitted for definitive approval in the mid-January plenary session disregards to some extent the demands made by many parties in the hope that the European Parliament and the Council would improve the regulation, amending it in such a way that member states could ban GMO cultivation, particularly in the name of environmental protection and to avoid the by-now scientifically proven contamination of organic and conventional GMO-free crops. In particular, Slow Food has legitimate doubts about the actual effectiveness of the text and whether or not the best interests of farmers and citizens are really at the center of the approach taken.
In our opinion, a weak point is represented by the vagueness of the environmental reasons that a state can invoke to justify its decision and which would therefore leave fertile ground for possible challenges of the national measures in the European Court of Justice, particularly those funded by powerful agribusiness multinationals. The evaluation of environmental pollution – though scientifically documented – caused by the cultivation of GMOs is exclusive responsability of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), even if it does not necessarily take into account environmental impacts at national level.
A partial counterweight comes from one positive element, namely the fact that socio-economic reasons that could represent a strong motivation for individual states deciding to ban GMOs have been taken into consideration.
The other element of great concern, determining the next front for action for the associations that support the GMO-free option, is represented by the fact that banning or restricting the cultivation of transgenic organisms in a state’s territory can in no way limit the circulation of food products made from such GMOs within the same state. A detailed reflection on the issue of mandatory labeling of food products containing GMOs is therefore urgent, as well as on the obligations currently in force (which continue to excluded the obligation to label products where GMOs are present in a proportion no higher than 0.9%, provided this presence is accidental or technically unavoidable). This will become ever more crucial in a context in which some states ban the cultivation of transgenic organisms while others approve it, and, above all, in which GMOs, as foods or ingredients in foods, continue to circulate freely, most likely in even larger quantities. In fact, labeling will increasingly become the only tool available to citizens interested in choice, and therefore we hope that the Parliament and the European Commission will consider implementing measures in this respect.
In the interests of citizens and in order to guarantee their right to choose, the ethical question must be taken into consideration. Based on EU Regulation 1169/2011, through food labeling, citizens are able to make their own food choices in line with their own culture and lifestyle options, deciding, for example, not to consume foods of animal origin or made with ingredients of animal origin. To this end, they are supplied with all the information needed for them to make this choice. Similarly, Slow Food expressly supports the right to choose not to eat GMOs and to be informed enough to be able to do this.
The text in question can therefore be called neither a victory for the pro-GMO front nor a victory for the opposition. Clearly, there is still much work to be done to guarantee the interests of citizens and also the protection of the environment.