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France cannot ban food and feed with genetically modified organisms based on the emergency safeguard clause it cited for its 4-year ban, ruled the Court of Justice of the European Union on September 8, without proof of a "clear and serious risk to human or animal health or the environment." [1]

This comes on the heels of Tuesday's high court ruling that all food products containing GMOs - whether intentional or not - must undergo an approval process. GMO opponents applauded that tightening of restrictions, since it paves the way for damage claims by those whose crops or honey become genetically contaminated by neighboring GM fields.

Today's ruling, however, counts as a win for Monsanto and the EU Commission in their ongoing power struggle to defeat independent sovereign rejection of GMOs on the precautionary principle - a far less stringent, but more scientifically sound standard that acknowledges the dangers of genetic manipulation.

Like France, other nations including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg also banned GMOs under the EU emergency clause of Directive 2001/18/EC.

The high court instead ruled that nations seeking to ban GMOs may only use the more stringent emergency measures permitted under Regulations 1829/2003 and 178/2002.

The difference, explains Thijs Etty, a transnational environmental lawyer specializing in biotechnology and EU law, is that the latter regulations are "more centralized, much less flexible and more procedurally demanding."

Under these more stringent regulations, Etty told Food Freedom:
"Any national measures will have to be scrutinized at the EU level, where the more technical regulatory committees may be less forgiving to GMO bans that do not really fulfill the criteria of showing 'urgency,' or the 'clear and serious risk' standard."
'Urgency' and 'clear and serious risk' can easily be proven by looking at evidence from around the world:
  • Superweeds resistant to agrochemicals used with GM crops now choke 11 million acres in the US. [2] (Also see these reports from Canada[3] and South America [4].)

  • Insects have developed resistance to Monsanto's Bt-corn in the US [5] and Bt-cotton in China [6];

  • Cotton and tobacco modified with the Bt protein show developmental defects, growth retardation and sterility in India[7];

  • Bt insecticidal proteins are found in the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of the fetuses in Canada [8];

  • Agrochemical use has skyrocketed in the US. (See [9] and [10]);

  • GM feed causes organ damage in lab animals [11];

  • Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, is associated with spontaneous abortion in cattle who eat GM feed [12];

  • Glyphosate is also linked to birth defects [13]; and

  • Glyphosate is found in the air, rain and streams [14].
The EU Commission's technical committee may bill itself as being more "technically stringent" in its assessment of biosafety, but Earth Open Source reports that EU regulatory bodies consistently ignore independent scientific reports showing harm, and instead rely on unpublished - meaning, not peer-reviewed - studies by the biotech industry. [13]

No wonder Member States don't want GM approval limited to an EU central body. Centralization makes corruption easier. As discussed in Tuesday's piece,
"the European Food Safety Authority, which rules on GMO safety, has been under fire for hiring members with financial interests in the biotech industry."
Under today's decision which cannot be appealed, EU institutions - not Member States - are in charge of assessing GMO risk. Only if they do not act, can a European nation make a unilateral decision.

Jose Bove, a long time French opponent of GMOs and now a Member of the European Parliament, serving on the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, had this to say:
"All the concerns about the impact on health and the environment that led to the ban and the use of the safeguard clause remain. Not to mention the devastating economic impact, especially for French beekeepers, following the decision of the Court of 6 September. The French government must immediately adopt a new safeguard clause, simply by complying this time to the European procedure. This decision also reminds us, more than ever the need for a general ban of GMOs in Europe. " [15]
EU nations wishing to reject biotech food and feed should heed this strategy to ensure food sovereignty, as well as ensuring safe food and feed.

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