Retail co-ops criticise ‘bias’ in EU consultation on new genomic techniques

Euro Coop joined 39 other organisations to argue that the European Commission’s survey lacked transparency and material on policy options

Retail co-op body Euro Coop has signed an open letter to the EU health commissioner criticising the European Commission’s consultation process on the impact of new genomic techniques (NGTs).

Euro Coop – the European Community of Consumer Cooperatives – joined 39 other organisations in writing to Stella Kyriakides, raising concerns over how the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) is organising the impact assessment.

The letter says the consultation process lacks transparency and does not offer material on policy options. It argues that selected stakeholders should have been identified from the outset – including details of the sectors they come from and the criteria that led to their selection.

It also called for an explanation of how the input of different stakeholders will be weighted in the survey and the subsequent report from the Commission.

The letter says the survey on NGT – which invited Euro Coop and the other organisations to contribute – “was already characterised by strong bias regarding the tone, content, and questions and response options, which together appeared to be formulated to weaken the existing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) regulation.”

The signatories claim the survey was “biased in favour of far-reaching deregulation of GMOs in agriculture and food” and, as such, “answering the targeted survey was impossible for many stakeholders.”

They add that the policy scenarios for new GMOs should have been made public and that “sustainability must be assessed separately from the genetic modification regulation and the assessment must be based on evidence and clear objectives and be reviewed by independent authorities”.

The letter urges the Commission “to repeat those parts of the impact assessment on NGTs that fall short of the required standards”.

“More broadly,” it adds, “we ask the EU Commission to follow the ECJ decision that NGTs products must be considered GMOs and regulated as such. Possible NGTs deregulation would put at risk the environment, food safety, consumers’ and farmers’ right to choose, as well as the organic, conventional, and non-GMO sectors.”

A spokesperson from the European Commission’s DG SANTE said: “The Commission very much welcomes the broad range of views on its policy initiative on New Genomic Techniques.

“This initiative potentially impacts a large and diverse group of citizens and stakeholders. They include non-governmental and consumer organisations, academia and research associations, a broad range of businesses stakeholders, from primary production to retail, including breeders and organic sector operators.

“The Commission consults in full transparency with stakeholders having various scientific expertise. Their feedback and views will be taken into account by the Commission in the policy process. Since the start of this process we have encouraged all stakeholders to be as active as possible and provide us with their views and expert advice.

“We  are confident that all the different views within the scientific community are covered by this broad consultation.”