Doc. 10406

20 January 2005

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Opinion1

Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Rapporteur: Mrs Blanca Fernández-Capel, Spain, Group of the European People’s Party

I.       Conclusions of the Committee

The Committee on Culture, Science and Education reaffirms its support for freedom of science and research. It recognises however that controls and appropriate monitoring are needed. In general, the precautionary principle should be used with the greatest precaution or otherwise it would prevent scientific progress.

The draft report assumes that the genetic modification of organisms is a very unsafe and unknown area. It implies that this technology is in its infancy and does not reflect the state-of-the-art. It does not include the knowledge which has been accumulated in the last 20 to 25 years of research and about 10 years of commercial application in this area. Further, it does not accept this new plant biotechnology as an improvement of existing technology in the classical breeding area.

In the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Committee feels that many of the measures proposed by the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs are not justified and could have very negative effects, in particular for developing countries.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in its report on «The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04 », states : « it is found that agricultural biotechnology can help the poor by reducing reliance on toxic agricultural chemicals, lowering production costs for farmers, enhancing the nutritional contents of food and improving the control of plant and animal diseases. These gains can boost agricultural productivity and reduce food prices ».

Therefore the Committee on Culture, Science and Education proposes the following amendments:

Amendments to the draft resolution:

Amendment A

In the draft resolution, paragraph 3, replace “Europe and” by "Europe. In spite of a long history of risk assessment and a large number of studies covering a period of more than ten years, some claim”.

Amendment B

In the draft resolution, paragraph 6, replace the words “have not been sufficiently evaluated” by ”should continue to be studied”.

Amendment C

In the draft resolution, add the following sentence at the end of paragraph 7:

Amendment D

In the draft resolution, paragraph 9, delete the word “allergies”.

Amendment E

In the draft resolution, paragraph 11, add “In some countries” before “the GMO-free criterion”.

Amendment F

In the draft resolution, paragraph 11, delete the word “quality”.

Amendment G

In the draft resolution, paragraph 13, add “some” before “consumers”.

Amendment H

In the draft resolution, paragraph 14, delete the words “the major reservations expressed by consumers are not only attributable to the fact that new products do not show any benefit.”.

Amendment I

In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 15.

Amendment J

In the draft resolution, paragraph 16, delete the first sentence.

Amendment K

In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 17.

Amendment L

In the draft resolution, paragraph 18, replace the words “not suitable” by “suitable”.

Amendment M

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph i.a. delete from “maintaining” to the end of the sub-paragraph.

Amendment N

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph i.b. delete from “GMO-free” to the end of the sub-paragraph.

Amendment O

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph i.c. replace “precaution” by “respect for the precautionary principle” and delete from “given” to the end of the sub-paragraph.

Amendment P

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph i.d. delete from “it is in the interests” to the end of the sub-paragraph.

Amendment Q

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph iii.a., delete from “The labelling of animal products” to the end of the subparagraph and replace by: “The labelling should allow the consumer to make an informed choice”.

Amendment R

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph iii.b., delete from “Following the precautionary” to the end of the sub-paragraph and replace by: “genetically modified seeds should be properly labelled.”

Amendment S

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph iii.c., delete from “, together with clear decisions” to the end of the sub-paragraph and replace by “have to be established”.

Amendment T

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph iii.e., delete from “GMO-free reference areas” to the end of the sub-paragraph and replace this by the following: “GMO-free zones may be established”.

Amendment U

In the draft resolution, paragraph 19, sub-paragraph iv.c., delete “plants and”.

II.       Explanatory memorandum

      by Mrs Fernandez-Capel

1.       Amendment A is proposed as the Assembly should acknowledge the fact that GMOs in agriculture have a long history of risk assessment and that a large amount of scientific studies, covering a period of more than ten years, is available. Before an authorisation is given for a GMO to be commercialised in the European Union it must go through an extensive risk assessment procedure. Genetically modified plants are much better characterised than non-GM plants. There is an important bibliography of safety research on GMOs including the following:

2.       Green biotechnology should continue to be studied and the Committee on Culture, Science and Education agrees that risks associated with this technology should continue to be assessed. The Assembly should not however state whether such risk have or have not been sufficiently evaluated as this is a subjective notion, which is impossible to quantify. This is the justification for Amendment B.

3.       Long term monitoring is already an integral part of the approval procedure for GMOs, at least in the European Union. This is however not the case for non-GM methods. Their ecological effects should also be assessed (Amendment C).

4.       The allergenic potential of GMOs is included in their current safety assessment and to date no such effects were found (Amendment D).

5.       The statement that “the GMO-free criterion has become a decisive quality criterion for export and import” is misleading. First the use of such a criterion is limited to some European countries, such as France and Germany, and therefore it is far from being universal (Amendment E). In addition the statement implies that GMO-free is of better quality than GMO and there is no scientific basis for such. In some cases GM organisms are of better quality than non-GMOs (Amendment F).

6.       It is abusive to state that all consumers have a negative attitude towards GMOs. This is not even exact as far as the whole of Europe is concerned (Amendment G).

7.       Not all consumers express major reservations. The Assembly has no means of knowing why some consumers express reservations and “the fact that new products do not show any benefit” is far from proven and in contradiction with the explanatory memorandum which states that “with respect to future generations of GMO, there are far-reaching reports that consumers will benefit directly”. (Amendment H).

8.       Contrary to what is stated in the text gene technology will enable the use of agrochemicals to be reduced and is, in this respect, more environment friendly than non-GMOs. The statement that “land management according to ecological principles offers an alternative to traditional practice which ought not to be jeopardised by an overhasty plunge into widespread commercial cultivation of GMOs” is misleading in several aspects. There is no definition of what might be “land management according to ecological principles” and we assume it to mean “biological agriculture”. To say that this offers an alternative either to traditional practice or to GMOs is a gross overstatement: it can at best offer a complement as all statistics show. Furthermore it implies that GMOs do not follow ecological principles, which is abusive. Finally the expression “overhasty plunge” seems more suitable for a NGO than for a parliamentary assembly and the Assembly should not accept its views on such an important subject being dictated by NGOs. Therefore Amendment I.

9.       Whenever a genetically modified organism is approved for release this means that the risks involved have been quantified and deemed acceptable. On the other hand many advantages for consumers have so far been proven: in its Statement on Biotechnology, published in March 2000, “FAO recognizes that genetic engineering has the potential to help increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people. There are already examples where genetic engineering is helping to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines. Rice has been genetically engineered to contain pro-vitamin A (beta carotene) and iron, which could improve the health of many low-income communities.” (Amendment J).

10.       Economic policies are not linked to the system of patents. Patents exist to protect research from market mechanisms, not to ensure any balance between rich and poor countries. The unbalanced distribution of patents is a consequence of, not a cause for the imbalance between rich and poor countries. Patents on biological material cannot at the same time bring the danger of monopolies and of competition as these concepts oppose each other (“merciless cut-throat” is again NGO language). It should be pointed out that competition between seed producers benefits farmers (Amendment K).

11.       It is generally accepted that GMOs have a huge potential to combat hunger in the third world. Several developing countries already grow GMOs. China, where many farmers grow GM cotton, is likely soon to authorise commercial growing of GM rice. And Brazil (where, together with Argentina, GM soya is planted) is close to setting up a mechanism that could legalise all GM crops (the Economist, 18 November 2004). To state that “the transgenic varieties developed to date are not suitable for growing in developing countries is simply not true (Amendment L).

12.       The four principles listed in paragraph 19.i. are generally acceptable and the Assembly should indeed recommend that Governments of member States take them into account when defining their policies on GMOs. The explanations that follow those principles are however much more controversial and risk undermining the principles. They had better been placed in the explanatory memorandum (Amendments L, M, N and O). For example the objective of GMO regulation should be the protection of consumers and of the environment, certainly not “maintaining simple access to GMO-free foods or guaranteeing GMO-free agriculture or organic farming. If it is accepted that a given GMO is not harmful for consumer or environment there is no reason to violate the freedom of well informed producers and consumers. Furthermore the explanations in sub paragraphs i.a. and i.b. are in direct contradiction with what is stated in paragraphs 11 and 14 about consumer attitudes: if that was true there would be no need to protect non-GMO agriculture.

13.       The Committee on Culture, Science and Education certainly agrees that “it is in the interests of all concerned that a sound scientific base will be constructed at various levels of safety research, to make it possible for standards and regulations to be redirected, eased or tightened under agreed procedures” (paragraph 19.i.d.). We agree that social debate is also needed but their respective roles are different and should not be confused: it is neither for scientists nor for civil society to take political decisions but for politicians to take both into account for what they are worth. Debates in society about social models, objectives and practical expectations associated to green biotechnology should also include non-GMO production methods and their risks (Amendment P).

14.       Amendment Q takes into consideration that the EU has just adopted the labelling rule according to which animal products following the use of genetically modified feedstuff (eggs, milk, meat) do not have to be labeled. The Assembly should not propose to change the rules again as this does not help the consumer.

15.       Amendment R aims at reflecting the fact that the labelling of seeds has nothing to do with safety or with the precautionary principle or with any environmental influence. Seeds have to be labelled so that farmers are able to make proper choices.

16.       Governments should only define the liability régimes. Co-existence is a technical problem and has nothing to do with the additional costs. GMO products are approved products with clear benefits, therefore those who do not want them and wish to avoid them by insisting on very low threshold values should pay for these additional steps (Amendment S).

17.       Amendment T reflects the view that GMO-free zones are probably not necessary if the rules for co-existence are well defined

18.       Amendment U takes into account that genetically improved plants for producing pharmaceuticals do not necessarily have to be in a greenhouse, this may be a question of the plant system and the product. Therefore GMOs for pharmaceutical products should be assessed on a step-by-step basis.

Reporting committee: Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs

Committee seized for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Reference to committee: Doc. 9248 and Reference No 2665 of 8 November 2001

Opinion approved unanimously by the committee on 17 January 2005

Head of secretariat: Mr Grayson

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul


1        See Doc. 10380 tabled by the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs.