GMOs on the EU market

Understanding the legal procedure and its implications

By Manon Godot, January 2010


The Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 12 March 2001, on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms determines the legal procedure to follow in order for any person to be allowed to release into the environment GMOs, for placing them on the market within the community, or for any other purposes.  After having been approved by its national Food Safety Authority, the project is submitted to the European Commission and all the member states of the EU, who can formulate an objection (silence is considered consent, hence, parties must formally disagree within 60 days to prevent advancement of the project). In the case of a disagreement, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission will examine the project.

The Directive 2001/18/EC is subject to certain criticisms.  In regards to the roll of the EFSA: the guarantees of independence of the EFSA and its members are only and exclusively based on “declarations of commitment and of interests”; EFSA receives its financing from the EU; there are exceptions to the publicity of its research depending on economic considerations; all the members of the agency’s management board are designated by public organs of the EU.  In regards to all European political institutions involved: these institutions, being politic entities, have the tendency to give priority to economic interests, over the interests of human health and the environment.

Once permission to place a GMO product on the market has been obtained, the labelling of the product must clearly state that a GMO is present. The words “This product contains genetically modified organisms,” shall appear on a label. This rule concerns all food and ingredients derived from GM products and GM animal feed. The GMO will be identified by a special kind of barcode and a “Unique identifier” and  The product’s circulation on the market will have to follow several rules of traceability.  If the product contains less than 0.9% of GMO-content, it will, however, not have to be labelled as a GMO product. Products derived from animals fed on GM animal feed won’t have to be labelled either.

Finally, a safeguard clause provides to Member States, having justifiable reasons to consider that a GMO constitutes a  risk to human health or the environment, the possibility of provisionally restricting or prohibiting its use and/or sale on its territory. The European Committee, however, deemed in almost all cases that there was no new evidence that would justify overturning the original authorisation decision.

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