14 December, 2013
By F. William Engdahl
The second highest court of the EU has dealt a major defeat to the pro-GMO lobby in Europe. On December 13, the General Court of the European Union which consists of 28 judges, one from each Member State, issued a ruling that the EU Commission had failed to follow the EU’s rules when approving the Amflora potato, a patented Genetically Manipulated potato of the German chemical giant and Monsanto partner, BASF. The Amflora is modified to produce extra starch for use in the paper industry. The decision, which can only be appealed on grounds of a mistaken point of law, now opens the entire EU approval process for GMO to review, something most unwanted by the embattled GMO industry.
In 2012 BASF stopped growing Amflora inside the EU citing strong popular opposition, transferring the planting to undisclosed countries. Nonetheless, the ruling sets a major precedent for judicial review of other GMO plants. In its ruling the EU court stated, “”Because the Commission significantly failed to fulfil its procedural obligations, the General Court has annulled the connected decisions.” Both the Commission and BASF have declined comment to date. i
The original approval of Amflora was one of the first decisions by then EU Health Commissioner from Malta, John Dalli. surprise approval of Amflora was one of the first decisions taken by the EU’s then-health commissioner, John Dalli, who took office in February 2010. Dalli was forced to resign from the Commission in 2012 after being linked to a tobacco bribery scandal. The only other GMO plant currently approved for commercial planting is Monsanto’s GMO insect-resistant maize which is sown on about 100,000 hectares of farmland, mainly in Spain.
The ruling puts the spotlight on the complex and highly criticized EU approval procedure. The EU’s European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a determination to the Commission in 2007 declaring that Amflora was safe to plant. Using that EFSA ruling, the EU Commission proposed cultivation and sale of Amflora in 2007. However EU government ministers refused to either approve or reject the Commission’s proposal, a step required by EU rules. To circumvent that lack of approval from the EU states, the Commission granted approval unilaterally in 2010. The General Court, (Europäische Gerichtshof (EuGH) ruled that that was in violation of legal requirements for GMO approval as in 2009 the EFSA issued a new scientific opinion regarding Amflora requiring the Commission to submit new proposals for approval by EU governments rather than simply adopting its 2007 version. “The Commission infringed the procedural rules of the systems for authorising GMOs in the European Union,” the court concluded. ii
In a press release hailing the court decision, Aktion GEN-Klage, an international network of more than 60 organizations, noted that the approval of Amflora is now definitively stopped. GEN-Klage founder and spokeswoman, Christiane Lüst commented from the organization’s Munich office, “Damit ist ein Bann gebrochen – die Zulassungsverfahren auf EU-Ebene sind so fehlerhaft – das hat sogar der EuGH eingesehen, dass das so nicht gehen kann” iii
Lüst explained that the organization initiated the legal challenge in 2007 when the surprise announcement from the EU Commission approving Amflora came out. They looked for an EU government to co-sponsor the legal action and found immediate response from the Government of Hungary and Austria, giving legal standing for the court challenge. France and Poland also joined the legal challenge.
Currently there are an estimated 170 million hectares of GMO crop cultivation globally, mainly in the Americas and parts of Asia. The resistance to GMO in the EU countries has posed the major problem for Monsanto and the GMO lobby to gain approval worldwide.
i Charlie Dunmore, EU court annuls approval of BASFs Amflora GMO potato, Reuters, December 13, 2013, accessed in http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/13/eu-gmo-potato-idUSL6N0JS1TH20131213.
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