Genetically modified foods in the TTIP agreement
There are increasing discussions on genetic engineering as the TTIP negotiations continue.
A central topic in the negotiations on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) agreement is mutual market access for producers of goods, especially including agricultural products. Since most of the agricultural yield in the USA is now based on genetically modified (GE, genetically engineered) seeds, allowing GE foods into the EU is also on the agenda of the talks when the negotiators on both sides focus more on foods, starting in September.
It is not just the US producers' associations that want market access for their goods: the US government is also demanding removal of all "non-scientific barriers" to GE foods and that the EU harmonise and speed up its associated approval process.
To reassure worried European consumers, the European Commission constantly provides assurances that food safety will not be compromised by the TTIP agreement. The US side counters that – to date – no safety risk posed by GE foods has been scientifically proven, neither will food safety be jeopardized by their approval.
Once again, this discussion reveals the extent of the difference between the two consumer protection systems when it comes to food safety. In the EU the precautionary principle applies, the goal of which is to prevent possible risks from arising in the first place. In the USA, by contrast, a product is considered safe until a harmful effect appears or has been proven.
Even so, despite the current debate and the strong resistance from sections of the public, for some time now the EU has no longer been a "GE-free" space.
As early as 1998 the EU approved the cultivation of the US maize variety MON 810, which in 2013 was grown in Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia. The 150,000 ha cultivated represented about 1.5% of the EU's total maize acreage. Of this, 137,000 ha (91%) were in Spain. In 2010 the potato variety "Amflora" was allowed into the EU, but it has not been cultivated since 2011.
Foods containing more than 0.9% GE ingredients must currently be labelled as such throughout the EU. But the US government does not regard this labelling alternative as a feasible alternative to a ban on approval, arguing that it suggests risks that in fact do not exist.
This labelling obligation was already restricted this year: in response to a 2011 judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union the EU Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the Directive on honey by which pollen is defined as a constituent and no longer an ingredient. The result is that honey with pollen from GE plants no longer needs to be labelled as such.
In June 2014, the Council of EU Environment Ministers also reached basic agreement on a Commission proposal, granting the Member States the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to grow GE crops in their territory. The decision on the Directive in the Parliament and Council is planned for 2015.
There are already intense discussions and legislative movements in the EU regarding GE organisms. These are being further intensified by the TTIP talks, and the legislative process could likewise be given a new push depending on how the negotiations go.
As part of this discussion, it is worthwhile to take a look at the Final document of the 2009 Study Week of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development," the conclusions of which can also be applied to dealing with genetic engineering in the EU:
"GE technology, used appropriately and responsibly, can in many circumstances make essential contributions to agricultural productivity by crop improvement, including enhancing crop yields and nutritional quality, and increasing resistance to pests, as well as improving tolerance to drought and other forms of environmental stress. These improvements are needed around the world to help improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture."
This responsible and appropriate use of genetic engineering should be defined and then implemented based on scientific criteria and on a wide-ranging discussion.
Translated from the original text in German