EU imposes stiff controls to block Chinese GM rice

by jeeg 17. November 2011 01:16

EU member states have slapped rigid new controls on all imports of Chinese rice products in the wake of ever-increasing detection of products 'contaminated' with unauthorised genetically modified rice.

Following a near unanimous decision by experts sitting on the bloc’s food safety committee, Europe will now require 100 percent of all consignments of rice originating in China to be certified as meeting EU standards.

Until now, whenever China submitted analytical reports to the EU showing that a shipment was GM free, the bloc has performed only random spot checks on consignments to verify these reports.

But in 2010, the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed - the border control warning system - issued 47 alerts over the presence of GM rice in Chinese imports.

As a result, on Tuesday, Europe’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health - a group of national officials from the EU member states - has decided that all consignments of rice products originating in China will be verified.

Currently, no GM rice products are authorised in the EU, and some of the alerts involve GM rice products that are not authorised in China itself.

The problem dates back some time, with the commission adopting an emergency measure in 2008 to impose controls on Chinese rice products entering the union.

All representatives of member states on the food safety committee apart from one approved the tougher measures on Tuesday. No unanimity is required to pass the measure. The new controls will be reviewed in six months.

However, the urgency of the EU manoeuvre contrasts with the scale of the China-Europe rice trade. The Middle Kingdom only exports some €50-55 million worth of rice products to the EU every year, equivalent to around 50,000 tonnes, according to the commission.

No to Chinese rice, divided on US soybean

Separately, the same committee today found itself divided over approval of the import of two GM soybean products from Monsanto and Bayer.

The European Food Safety Authority had given favourable scientific assessments to both products, saying they were as safe as their non-GM counterparts for humans and animals.

One of the soybeans had previously been authorised for import by the same Standing Committee, but now, upon reassessment after the original authorisation ran out, the bean has not been seen in so favourable a light.

Some 95 percent of soybean imports, which are mainly used for animal feed, are genetically modified.

The EU is in effect a GM-free zone in terms of cultivation, with only two items, a corn plant and a potato approved for growing in the bloc, and even there, only a handful of states themselves permit this.

While there are 165 million hectares around the world growing GM products, there are just 100,000 hectares in the EU.

But a total of 43 GM products that are not grown in the EU can however be imported.

As the Standing Committee was unable to reach the required majority either in favour or against the soybeans’ approval, the decision now passes for the first time ever to a GMO Appeal Committee.

The GMO Appeal Committee has yet to be constituted, and so the precise composition has yet to be decided, although member-state representatives from some level - whether diplomat, national official or expert - will be involved.

If the GMO Appeal Committee also cannot muster a majority either in favour or against - a situation that is quite likely, it is the European Commission that makes the final decision, based on the assessment of the scientists in EFSA.

As EFSA has already said that these two soybeans are safe, the commission would in this case likely give the green light to them.

The Appeal Committee is to debate the status of the soybeans within six weeks, and so a decision will probably be taken by the end of the year.

Leigh Phillips, EU Observer

 

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