A group of organisations have expressed concern about the possible introduction of genetically modified (GM) animals in the European Union (EU), after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released guidance for applicants.
The alliance, including Eurogroup for Animals and Friends of Earth Europe, sent an open letter to EU Commissioners John Dalli (health and consumer policy), Dacian Ciolos (agriculture), Janez Potocnik (environment) and Maria Damanaki (maritime affairs and fisheries), asking for a transparent public debate on GM animals.
Martyn Griffiths, executive communications officer at Eurogroup for Animals, told GlobalMeatNews: “The Commission asked EFSA to establish guidelines for risk assessment to authorise food from GM animals. These guidelines are now final and published. We fear this means that the authorisation process can start, but a majority of EU citizens are still against GM food: the group of NGOs signing the letter want a broad public debate before going further with this process.
“What we want is for the Commission to inform the public and discuss with stakeholders about the usefulness of authorising food/feed from genetically modified animals.”
The letter raised questions on the ‘Guidance on the risk assessment of food and feed from genetically modified animals and on animal health and welfare aspects’, published by EFSA on 26 January and seen as the first step towards authorising GM animals on the European market. It pointed out that most consumers were against such products.
“These clear concerns among European citizens about GM food need to be considered before the European Union begins any process to consider the approval of such foods derived from GM animals,” the alliance said.
The NGOs also expressed worries on animal welfare in the development and production process of GM products, and warned that GM contamination would be even harder to contain with moving animals than with crops.
GM guidance: a proactive measure
However, Frederic Vincent, spokesperson for health and consumer policy Commissionner Dalli, said there was still a long way to go before the EU would authorise GM animals. "Publication of a guidance document is an indication that the EU is reflecting on the issue, if a company envisages to introduce such a product on the EU market in the future. But we are far from it: contrary to the US - where a GM salmon has been developed in recent years - there is no plan - as far as we know - to introduce a GM animal for consumption," he told GlobalMeatNews.
EFSA said that no GM animal was currently authorised in the EU, nor were any applications pending, but that the rapid evolution of science had prompted the need for the guidance.
An EFSA spokesperson said: “In a proactive measure, the European Commission has asked EFSA to develop a risk assessment approach that would be used to assess the safety of food and feed derived from GM animals for human and animal health and the environment, as well as related animal health and welfare aspects.
“EFSA acknowledges the broader societal, political and economic concerns over GM techniques, but in its work, its task is to consider only scientific information and these other aspects do not fall under its remit.”
The guidance is meant to help applicants assess risks related to GM animals, and defines the information that needs to be provided to EFSA to judge the safety of a specific animal or product. EFSA added that it was based on the latest scientific knowledge on GM animals, and gathered the expertise of the Authority’s genetically modified organisms panel and its animal health and welfare panel.
“This latter panel created a working group to specifically address the possible health and welfare implications on GM animals bred for food and feed purposes,” the spokesperson said.
Griffiths added that the NGOs had not yet received a response to their letter, sent on 27 January, but expects it to take up to two months.