TTIP is about GM

August 2015
Photo from Creative Commons
Disquiet about the 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' (TTIP) continues to grow [1].

The goal of these secretive negotiations is to open up trade between America and Europe. Since the discrepancy between US administration’s 'light-touch' voluntary attitude to GM produce and rigorous GMO regulation in the EU is irreconcilable, there is real concern the TTIP will be used to circumvent vital European GM controls.

When the TTIP negotiations kicked off in 2013, the European Commission (EC) President insisted that the "restrictions in Europe on genetically modified crops would not be up for discussion". The TTIP Q&A website answers the question "Will TTIP force the EU to change its laws on genetically modified organisms" with an emphatic "No The EU basic law on GMOs is not up for negotiation. It will not change as a result of TTIP". Industry claims reassuringly that TTIP is about simplifying procedures and improving mutual recognition of comparable standards; it is not about setting new rules or policies, neither in the EU nor in the US".

However, none of these preclude adjustments to how the regulations and policies are interpreted or implemented, and the definition of "comparable standards" can surely be adapted to enable that "mutual recognition".

As biotechnology moves on, the current GM herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops for which EU regulations were designed will come to the end of their shelf-life. Next-generation biotech crops will be created through other artificial DNA-altering mechanisms such as gene editing [2], which can perform changes much more subtle (but not necessarily less disruptive) than the insertion of whole genes. This is opening up a whole new can of worms.

While an industry lobby group for 'New Breeding Techniques' predictably trotted out a legal opinion that none of the next-generation biotech crops result in a genetically modified organism and therefore need no regulation, a published review by a multidisciplinary team with scientific and legal members was clear that it is impossible for plants resulting from techniques which induce specific mutations to be excluded from GMO classification according to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, or to escape the EU GMO regulatory framework.

The EC has been struggling with this issue since 2007, and has yet to come to a conclusion.

In light of the impending TTIP agreements, EU regulation (or otherwise) of next-generation techniques for genetic manipulation is a burning issue for America and for seed suppliers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Indeed, there are signs that those assurances that European laws on GM will not even be discussed should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Similar trade negotiations between the EU and Canada, just concluded, explicitly mention the lifting of "trade barriers" and co-operation "to minimise trade impacts of regulatory practices related to biotechnology products." Wherever the trade agreements with Canada go, we can expect those with America to follow.

Freedom of information requests for 2014 reveal that a meeting between EU and US delegations and EU and US seed associations (both largely representing the interests of the same big biotech corporations) focused on three priority issues. One of these was the contamination of seeds and food with illegal GMOs, for which Europe has zero-tolerance. Another was "New Plant Breeding Techniques", meaning next-generation DNA-altering methods, for which no seed supply organisation saw any need for regulation.

A subsequent meeting was convened by the US Government and chaired by the US Trade Representative office, with an EU delegation "participat(ing) in a more or less listening mode". The seed associations emphasised the disruption to trade arising from a patchwork of regulatory approaches and the dependence of future 'New Plant Breeding Techniques' on "an enabling regulatory environment and supportive public policy", therefore, the best approach was not to regulate them.

The conclusion can only be that the seed industries' demands for TTIP include a profound weakening of the EU's approach to implementing GMO regulations.

Note that neither US nor EU seed associations are registered with the EU Transparency Register or the US Lobbying Disclosure Register.

The EC is planning to publish its own legal interpretation of the GM status of all the various New Plant Breeding Techniques by the end of the year. It seems Member States and the European Parliament will have no say in this.

If all this sounds sinister, on 8th July, there was uproar from some MEPs at what they perceived to be vote manipulation. A controversial TTIP resolution was passed by a second vote which had been postponed at the last minute in June when the President feared the vote would be lost.


OUR COMMENT

Be clear any molecular change to DNA by artificial means is genetic engineering:

  • it is not breeding
  • it produces a GMO
  • it risks disruption of the coherent , healthy functioning of the genome and the whole organism
  • it puts the course of natural evolution at risk
  • it puts future generations at risk
The biotech industry and an awful lot of scientists are confused, and have successfully confused the EC, which will successfully confuse its legal advisers unless, that is, they take the time and trouble to reach the level of scientific understanding of the nature of GM as lawyer, Steve Drukker [3].
The evidence that the Commission is side-stepping the democratic process every time it can't get its own way is a burning issue which you should bring to your MEP's attention a.s.a.p. (and you could mention Drukker's book at the same time:

Steven M. Druker, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, 2015, ISBN-13: 978-0-9856169-0-8

Background:

[1] HERE'S A TTIP - November 2014
[2] GENETICALLY EDITED - October 2014

SOURCES: 
  • TTIP: released emails show biotech seeds on the trade talks table, Corporate Europe Observatory, July 2015
  • Divided MEPs pass controversial TTIP resolution, War on Want 8.07.15
  • David L. Pelletier, 2005, Science, Law, and Politics in the Food and Drug Administration's Genetically Engineered Foods Policy: FDA's 1992 Policy Statement, Nutrition Science and Policy 63:5

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