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GMO Update Affects EU Member State Rights

The debate about genetically modified and engineered organisms (GMOs) used in food production continues, with a global agreement coming into place enabling individual countries to adopt GM food labeling. Recent decisions in Europe, America and Africa have also brought about changes to the GMO landscape.


Fairfield, NJ -- (ReleaseWire) -- 12/02/2011 -- Codex Alimentarius, the international food safety advisory body, defines GMOs as: “genetically engineered/modified organisms and products thereof, produced through techniques in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. Consumer groups, the organic food industry and other interest groups have pointed out that the long-term health and environmental effects of GMOs are unknown and potentially irreversible.

Labeling of GMO products

Codex has resolved a twenty-year debate by deciding to permit voluntary labeling indicating the presence of GMOs, after the US delegation dropped its objections on winning the concession that “foods derived from modern biotechnology are not necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production”. Codex has issued new guidelines that will allow countries to adopt the labeling of GMO products without a risk of legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO), because national measures based on Codex standards cannot be challenged for mounting a barrier to trade.

GMO in Europe

The attorney general of the European Court of Justice issued an opinion in March 2011, suggesting that France’s ban on Monsanto’s genetically modified maize is illegal. The opinion stated France “could not suspend the planting of Monsanto’s MON810 genetically modified corn… without having asked prior permission from the European Commission”. This perhaps indicates how the court may rule when the case is heard. It is an especially interesting development in light of France being one of seven European countries, which also includes Germany, to ban the maize that is one of only two GMO crops approved for cultivation within the EU.

The European Parliament granted EU Member States the right to ban or restrict GMO crop cultivation for a wide range of reasons in July 2011.

The possible barriers to GMO include pesticide resistance, biodiversity preservation, and possible socioeconomic impacts such as contamination risks to agriculture and difficulties in the management of any such contamination. The right to restrict or ban GMO still awaits final approval, but in any case signals a major change to the existing policy, whereby all EU Member States must follow EU regulations except under specific conditions.

The EU Commission and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have also been called for updates to their GMO guidelines ( The European Parliament noted these bodies have approved a large number of genetically modified animal feed and human food products and ingredients. In response, a risk assessment of food and feed derived from GM animals is now being compiled by the EFSA after comments from a public consultation were taken until September 30,, 2011.

GMO in the U.S.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been asked by a group of senators to drop plans to discuss a commercial enterprise’s request to permit farming of genetically modified fish for human consumption, in what would be the first such fish farm. The House had already passed an amendment to eliminate funding for the program. Concerns were voiced over the loss of jobs in fishery along the coastal states, as well as the possible escape of genetically modified salmon from fish farms, thus resulting in the contamination of native fish populations and the possibility of their out-competing native fish populations.

GMO in Africa

Kenya has joined South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso as African countries that allow the importation and production of GM crops on July 1, 2011. Further countries on the continent also currently conducting their own research into GM crops include Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana.

The implementation of biological safety measures in Africa, however, is impeded by a number of concerns. These include the economic ability of African governments to curb illegal production and trade of GM crops, and disagreements about the role GM could play in famine relief and food security for burgeoning African populations.

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