In a webcasted panel debate, FEFAC President Ruud Tijssens (also representing FEDIOL and COCERAL), DG SANTE acting Director General Ladislav Miko and COM ENVI chairman and EP rapporteur Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT) discussed the “opt out” proposal for the use of GM food and feed imports and its impact on the EU strategic raw material supply.
In the debate, Ladislav Miko explained the Commission’s motivation to carry the controversial proposal forward. He stressed the Commission wishes to provide Member States that want to put an end to the “use” of GM materials for food and feed in their country with a legal base to realize this policy goal, for other than scientific reasons. Member States could take inspiration from the list of reasons the Commission was called on to provide for the conclusion of the “opt-out” proposal on cultivation of GM crops earlier this year in order to seek for “compelling grounds” of public interest to justify such an “opt-out” for use of approved GM food or feed imports. Miko highlighted the conflicting attitude of Member States and the EP who are vocally against GM food and feed but at the same time strongly reliant on GM imports for the viability of their livestock industry. He claimed that the lack of an impact assessment means no conflict with better regulation principles as Commission President Juncker was given a political mandate to come up with a proposal when he took office, and in addition, performing an impact assessment is extremely difficult given the unpredictability of which Member States will opt out under which conditions. He did recognize, however, that the EU cannot replace 32 mio. t of soybean products in the short term, but pointed to long-term opportunities to increase EU production of vegetable proteins.
FEFAC President Ruud Tijssens highlighted that the complexity of the EU feed and food supply chain and its particular relation to GM derived raw materials is generally not well understood by governments and politicians. He stressed that EU feed and food business operators act on a global commodity market, where GM technology is a given. In order to allow for undisrupted market access to the global market, the EU should first review its needs in the light of the strategic raw material supply before considering adaption of is legislation. Tijssens made clear that, due to the complexity of global trade, the proposal could jeopardize the future of EU livestock farming, as there will be unpredictable situations for the supply chain that deals with a huge variety of raw materials destined to a huge variety of food and feed applications. He stated that the feed industry offers non-GM feed supply chains for customers who are willing to pay a premium price; therefore, there should be no need for any interference by policy-makers to prohibit GM raw materials, as market solutions already exist. Given the EU’s desire to be a global trade partner that imports and exports large number of commodities, an EU regulatory framework for GM imports of food and feed that is on par with other continents is needed. Ruud Tijssens referred to previous restrictions to imported GM feed materials (DDGs from the USA) for two years which led to an estimated 5 billion euro extra costs to EU livestock farmers, resulting from higher costs for import substitutes and internal grain processing. He reiterated DG SANTE Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis words said at the Farm Council meeting on 13 July 2015 by stating that the choice for importing GM feed or not is in fact a choice between producing animal products in the EU and having to import them from third countries.
EP rapporteur Giovanni La Via considered that the Commission’s proposal is not the right way to tackle the current problem where the Commission is faced with consistent “no opinion” votes in its standing committees on GM approvals. He challenged the practicability and compatibility of the proposal, questioning the Commission how the internal market could still function if only one Member State moves ahead banning the use of EU approved GM crops for feed and food use on its territory and how enforcement would work. La Via was very concerned that the EU would create trade barriers for agricultural products in the EU, while it has worked so hard for many years to break them down. La Via signalled that there is a majority view in the European Parliament seeking to reject the Commission’s proposal in September 2015, albeit for different reasons. On green biotechnology itself, La Via concluded that with the need to increase global food production by 70% by 2050, technological innovation is a must. All panellists expressed their hope that the current proposal on the imports of GM crops will create more awareness with politicians, citizens and consumers on the reality of cross-border trade with GM-derived feed and foodstuffs and will provide a more open and honest discussion than has been the case with the proposal on the cultivation of GM crops.
Watch the 48-minute debate: GMOs - On or Off the EU's menu: