B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Le Grand,
1. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living
organisms (microorganisms, plant or animal) whose genetic material
has been altered by man on the basis, for example, of a transgenesis
2. GMOs are used in agriculture and for consumption (genetically
modified livestock and plants) to improve methods and yield in agriculture.
3. The genetically modified plants (GMPs) most frequently cultivated
are soya, maize, cotton and colza. There are two varieties: plants
genetically modified to resist a herbicide and those intended to
produce an insecticide (Bt).
4. The main countries cultivating GMOs for commercial purposes
are the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Canada.
5. The Parliamentary Assembly already held a debate on the issue
of GMOs in 2005, on the basis of a detailed report presented by
Mr Wodarg on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture
and Local and Regional Affairs. The present report will not therefore
revisit the subject as a whole, but will draw attention to the latest
In Resolution 1419
on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the
Assembly set out a series of principles, namely respect for consumers’
and producers’ freedom of choice, preservation of sustainable development
in agriculture, the precautionary principle, objectivity of scientific
debate, and public participation. There is no longer any need to
underline the continuing relevance of these principles or the fact
that the main concern today should not be confirming them but, rather,
ensuring their application Europe-wide.
2 Policies and legislation on GMOs: a
diversity of approaches and solutions
7. There are several international standards and treaties
such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the World Trade
Organization (WTO) agreements on application of sanitary and phytosanitary
measures. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also drawn up
rules and standards in the framework of the Codex Alimentarius.
Also worth mentioning is the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information,
Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in
8. Some non-member countries of the Council of Europe widely
authorise GMOs, do not separate flows of goods and do not stipulate
any labelling for products derived directly or indirectly from this
technology. However, the situation at world level still varies greatly
and there are many countries which do not have access to GMOs or
do not wish them to spread on their territory.
2.2 In Europe
9. As a general rule, in the countries belonging to
the European Union, policy is founded on the precautionary principle
in a quite strictly enforced regulatory framework, so that few authorisations
are recorded (see the procedures for evaluating and authorising
genetically modified food and feed and deliberate release into the
environment of genetically modified organisms (Regulation (EC) No.
1829/2003; Directive 2001/18/EC)).
10. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has a considerable
role to perform in the development of GMOs. It provides the European
Union with scientific advice and information for communication in
the field of the risks relating to the food chain, and includes
a scientific group on GMOs.
11. Community law covers, in particular, importing, processing,
experimental growing (contained or open field), commercial crops,
co-existence of different cultivation methods, traceability and
labelling (with regard to the latter two, see Regulation (EC) No.
1830/2003). This community regulatory apparatus is regarded more
or less favourably depending which position one adopts on GMOs.
For some it is balanced, for others too severe, for yet others deficient
12. The role of state authorities in the authorisation procedure
and in the possible implementation of the safeguard clause appears
3 Issues raised by GMOs
13. It is necessary to compare the benefits and the costs
for agriculture and society, and to assess the potential hazards.
14. There is also the question of compatibility, of consistency
with a number of other goals, in particular food safety, that is
to say food which is healthy and in adequate supply to feed the
entire population without risk.
15. But it is most important not to disregard the environmental
question, especially as regards the effect of pesticides on soils,
water, fauna and flora.
16. This also presupposes thorough scrutiny as to acceptance of
costs and liability in the event of pollution or contamination by
dissemination, whether accidental or not.
17. Inter-state relations and the principle of solidarity with
developing countries must also be taken into account.
18. In the context of world recession, the economic implications
are paramount, compounded by the impact and the consequences of
biotechnologies in this field.
3.1 Health safety
19. The first question that arose upon the discovery
of GMOs was: what are the human and animal health hazards? In this
context, reference should be made to the scale and the health, social,
economic and political impact of a number of crises (bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) and dioxin).
20. However, some consider that GMOs could provide a solution
to the problems of malnutrition and under-nourishment thanks to
the gains in productivity or to enhanced nutritive properties. For
instance, Golden Rice was invented as an enriched foodstuff for
use in regions with a vitamin A deficiency. According to its inventors, it
could offer a response to the suffering of half a million people
who go blind every year and the one to two million people who die
every year because of vitamin A deficiency.
3.2 Environmental effects of GMOs
21. The environmental effects of GMOs warrant special
attention, particularly as regards the effects of use of chemical
inputs, fertilisers or pesticides and the implications for the preservation
of biodiversity (destruction of insects and non-targeted animals,
monocultures, large-area crops and deforestation, accidental contamination
and also the appearance of potentially invasive resistant species).
22. It is therefore necessary for the impact of the coexistence
of different forms of cultivation (GMOs, conventional, agrobiological)
to be studied in greater depth.
23. Those in favour of developing GMOs and GMPs in Europe claim
that such development forms part of the ongoing process of genetically
improving plants by exploiting the transgenesis yielded by recent
biological discoveries, such as the universality of the genetic
code. Development would give access to new genotypes, within the
framework of tight and specific regulations. GMPs would be of interest
above all in helping to make agriculture competitive, innovative
and sustainable, protecting the environment, improving diets in
southern countries and, finally, boosting the green economy.
24. GMOs could open up new avenues in medicine. Growth hormones
might be produced by transgenesis, for example, whereas up to now
only extracts from the pituitary glands of deceased people have
been used for that purpose.
25. The supporters of GMOs, who fear that Europe might be left
isolated from a development which some countries, like the United
States or Argentina, are already fully exploiting, believe that
“GMO versus environment” is an erroneous logic that should be discarded.
They consider the moratoria on GMOs unjustified.
26. They cite President Obama, who said: “It is about letting
scientists … do their jobs …, and listening to what they tell us,
even when it’s inconvenient, especially when it’s inconvenient.
It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or
concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific
decisions based on facts, not ideology.” They want European farmers
to be able to choose whether or not to grow GMOs and want the precautionary
principle to be applied, while at the same time encouraging transparent
and safe innovation.
4 GMOs as a possible response to food needs
27. The increase in world population and climate change
have become two major constraints on agricultural production. According
to estimates, the world’s population is likely to number over 9
billion in 2050, which presupposes, in the calculations of the FAO,
a 70% increase in world food production.
28. At the same time, it has been observed that climate change
is threatening agricultural production owing to rising temperatures,
changes in rain cycles and more frequent flooding and drought, especially
in the areas whose climate already makes them subject to natural
29. A number of organisations and research teams have sought to
identify the technological changes needed in agriculture to meet
the food needs of the world population. Their conclusions generally
point to the importance of pursuing biotechnology research into
the development of genetically modified crops, harnessing it with
traditional genetic cross-breeding techniques, exploiting the potential
of aquaculture and extending farmlands where extreme environmental
conditions prevail (high saline levels, drought, etc.).
30. Some researchers have also suggested developing plants which
could use nitrogen in the environment and reduce water pollution
and greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, GMOs could be developed
in environments subject to extreme conditions or disrupted by climate
change. An FAO study suggests that agriculture is not only a victim
of climate change but also itself a contributor to global greenhouse
5 Current issues regarding GMOs – legal aspects
31. The differences still remain very marked between
opponents and supporters of GMOs, despite the attempts to find and
apply a halfway solution.
32. Development in certain member states’ national legislation
and procedures is observed nonetheless.
33. The European Union has toughened the enforcement of the European
Union legal framework on GMOs (Environment Council decision of December
2008, evaluation process initiated by the Directorate General for Health
and Consumer Affairs (DG SANCO) in October 2009, report delivered
in the summer of 2009).
34. On 2 March 2010, fresh authorisations were also granted by
the European Commission, namely the authorisation to grow the Amflora
potato developed by BASF and the authorisations to import three
genetically modified maize varieties of the Monsanto Company; the
procedures initiated for renewing authorisation of certain GMOs
(Mon810 maize) were pending.
35. France and Germany have already applied the safeguard clause
concerning Monsanto 810, and there has been liability litigation
in the United States in a case of contamination, which resulted
in the award of heavy damages.
36. On 29 June 2010, European Union agriculture ministers failed
to reach agreement by qualified majority on authorising or banning
the sale within the European Union of genetically modified maize.
On 28 July, the European Commission authorised for ten years the
sale of six maize varieties and renewed the authorisation for Monsanto
Mon810, for both food and feed purposes. Renewal was granted for
Bt11 maize developed by Syngenta, alongside authorisation for five
new GM maize varieties (Bt11xGA21 by Syngenta, 1507x59122 by Dow
Agrosciences/Pioneer and three others by Monsanto (59122x1507xNK603,
Mon88017xMon810 and Mon89034xNk603)).
37. Human food and animal feed containing GM maize are now therefore
authorised for sale throughout the European Union for the next ten
years. Only growing them is banned. They supplement the three GM
soya varieties, six GM cotton varieties, three GM rape varieties,
17 GM maize varieties and the GM sugar beet already authorised for
sale in Europe.
38. This decision should lead to the still wider circulation of
transgene products throughout the European Union.
6 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
39. GMO opponents have raised questions about the existence
of serious conflicts of interest within the European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA), which is responsible for issuing scientific advice
40. In 2009, Suzy Renckens, Head of the GMO Unit at the EFSA,
joined Syngenta before the expiry of the two-year period required
for avoiding conflicts of interest.
41. On 29 September 2010, it was revealed that Diana Banati, who
has chaired the EFSA Management Board since 2008, was also a member
of the board of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI),
an association comprising 400 agric-food players (including Monsanto,
Syngenta, DuPont, Nestlé and Kraft Foods).
42. In this context, it is all the more important that practical
measures to ensure the impartiality of European expertise concerning
GMOs are taken as a matter of urgency so that environmental assessment
in this area is properly strengthened.
7 Developing a pan-European policy on the use
of GMOs for agricultural and commercial purposes
43. The issue of GMOs directly affects human rights,
the right to health, the right to a healthy, sustainable environment,
property rights, freedom of enterprise and the right to information.
44. The Council of Europe, by virtue of its geographical outreach
and the scale of agricultural production and marketing in its member
states, and especially as a forum of Europe-wide democratic debate,
can perform a significant role in the debate about the development
45. The Parliamentary Assembly has long sought to advance environmental
protection. In this context, it would be expedient for the Assembly
to urge member and non-member states to frame and harmonise policies in
the fields of public information, consultation and participation
regarding the future of GMOs.
46. Given the scientific uncertainty surrounding the consequences
of the horizontal transfer, by viruses, of genetic materials from
genetically modified crops (including the antibiotic-resistance
marker genes present in most GMOs), further large-scale scientific
studies should be conducted to clarify the impact of the possible transfer
of genes from genetically modified crops to other organisms, including
human beings, or bacteria living in them, and to identify means
of preventing such transfers.
47. Given that there are serious doubts about the possibility
of ensuring the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops on fields within
the same area and that the protection of biodiversity, especially
in protected areas, against the horizontal transfer of genes from
GM crops should be ensured as a matter of utmost priority, the Assembly
should recommend that member states adopt the regulations necessary
to guarantee the right of states to decide freely whether or not
to cultivate GM plants and, if they so wish, to establish GMO-free
48. In addition, regulations on a total ban in Europe on the cultivation
of GMOs which contain antibiotic-resistance marker genes should
be drawn up and implemented. Other precautionary measures should
be developed and complied with to the letter, for instance the clear
labelling of products containing GMOs (or derived from animals fed
with GMOs), the exact labelling of seed, liability regulations and,
above all, the definition of agricultural best practice regarding
the production and use of GMOs.
49. The Assembly should also call on states to ensure that all
expert studies and appraisals concerning GMO issues are performed
completely independently and transparently.