GMO’s are a roadblock in free trade agreement

Photo: Niels Anton Heilskov
Photo: Niels Anton Heilskov
By Niels Anton Heilskov & Christopher Underwood.
[box type=”info”] Facts about GMO –GMO (Genetically modified food) Researchers still don’t agree on the safety of GMO. — The first GMO products were sold on the market 1996.– The EU has a strict evaluating process before GMO’s are approved in the EU. — In EU GMO is mainly used for animal feed. — Food products in the EU containing GMO must say so on the packaging[/box]

The different views on genetically modified food in the US and the EU can prevent a free trade agreement that would result in a much needed GDP increase.


The EU and the US are trying to settle a free trade agreement within two years. The main challenge is to agree on creating similar standards, so that a product accepted in the US is also accepted in the EU and the other way around.

Reaching a common understanding on the regulation of genetically modified organisms, GMO’s, is going to be a big challenge. The EU has some of the strictest GMO policies in the world, compared with the United States, which leads the world in the use of GMO.

“In order to complete this pact, both sides have to devote significant political focus and make choices in sensitive areas such as agriculture. Without addressing these vital issues, a deal will never happen” writes Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

In the US, 86% of corn, 93% of soybeans and 87% of canola is genetically modified. The US wants to export more of its GMO products to the EU but has not been able to do this because of strict regulation and a cultural backlash against GMO products.

These differences have not intimidated EU commissioner of trade, Karel De Gucht.

“This is the cheapest stimulus package you can imagine!,” said Karel De Gucht in a speech on the topic given at Harvard university.

Not all EU farmers are skeptic towards GMO. Aspiring farmer Ulrik Aaskov would rather start his farming carrier in the USA where the rules are more liberal. See Video –V-

GMO is a cornerstone in the trade war

A free trade agreement between the world’s two biggest economic powers has been discussed before, but the GMO question has been one of the reasons why discussions haven’t ended successfully.

“Since the 90’s there has been a  GMO trade war between the two actors and there have been cases in the World Trade Organisation where the EU lost,” says Jens Ladefoged Mortensen, who is a professor at Copenhagen University and author on several publications concerning the matter.

The U.S President’s 2013 Trade Policy Agenda states that the United States Trade Representative “is working to expand markets for the U.S agricultural producers by encouraging EU regulators to ensure that their decisions are science based.”

By science based, the US means that there should be scientific evidence proving that a product is harmful and should not be on the market. Without this proof, the banning of a product is seen as preventing free trade. The EU prefers a precautionary approach.

Six EU Member States have used a provisional safety law to temporarily ban the use of GMO: Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.

A sensitive subject is a serious matter

With the economic situation and positive gestures from both Obama and EU president Manuel Barroso, it would seem like the negotiations would go quickly and easily, but this isn’t the case.

“Food is an immensely sensitive subject in the EU, it’s hard to explain how big a role this subject plays. And the Americans don’t understand this reality. It has stopped an agreement before and might do it again, ” says Jens Ladefoged Mortensen

This is reflected in the opinion of the European citizens. In a EU report from 2010 only 23 percent stated that they supported GMO.

In the European Parliament the GMO skeptics are already getting ready to fight any changes to the European GMO policies. French member of the european parliament Jose Bové from the Greens (EFA) is waiting for the commission’s  proposal for a negotiation mandate. This is scheduled to be agreed before the political summer break and will define how far the EU will go to strike a deal.

“We need to see what’s on the table and for the moment this is totally hidden,” says Jose Bové, who isn’t optimistic, when it comes to the effects an agreement could have.

“The US is going to expect changes to the EU GMO policies. We would have to lower our standards. They will try to prevent European autonomy on food safety,” says Jose Bové

No changes to legislation

The European commissioner of trade, Karel De Gucht, has made it clear that the EU is not looking to change legislation concerning GMO.

“It’s not possible to settle an agreement if the americans actually think that legislation changes would happen,” says Jens Ladefoged Mortensen who sees other possibilities in reaching a compromise.

“In order to settle an agreement, EU could make a credible statement saying that they will look at speeding up the approval of GMO products.The compromise should be that the EU keeps their legislation and procedure, but administratively speed up the process of accepting more GM products.”

The slow process of approving GMO products in the EU has been the main issues upsetting the US concerning the EU GMO policies. The US has criticised the EU for deliberately delaying the process, turning the scientific analysis into an ideological subject and not a scientific one.

The World Trade Organisation has also ruled on this, criticising the EU for not having an efficient system and therefore creating a trade barrier.

Out of need, not love

The free trade agreement could act as a long term investment for both parties, but compromises in regards to GMO will have to be made.

An EU report predicts  that the relative size of the EU in the world economy will be halved in 2050 (15% against the current 29%).

The free trade agreement has the possibility of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, increasing GDP in the EU with 0,5-1%, and increasing global competitiveness for both parties. Both the US and EU are facing high unemployment, with the US averaging at 7.9% unemployment and the EU with 10.8%.

“The initiative doesn’t come from love but out of need” says Jens Ladefoged Mortensen. “The EU and the US have to look at creating a free trade agreement now because their prospects of growth are bad. With China and the BRIC countries storming forward, it’s a new era and a new reality”.

Companies hardly affected by EU cosmetic ban

By Amanda Dafniotis and Chris O’Gorman.

Europe’s 71 billion euro cosmetics industry was expected to be hit hardest by the European Union’s March 11 market ban on animal-tested cosmetics, but industry officials say it is consumers who will feel the brunt of the ban. 

As the March 11 market ban on animal-tested cosmetics comes into effect, industry officials are saying the ban will be detrimental to consumers. Photo by Amanda Dafniotis

Frédérick Warzee, spokesperson for DETIC, the Belgian cosmetics association said, while the cosmetics industry supports finding alternatives to animal testing, its dependance on the practice is minimal.

Roughly a tenth of a percent of the animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes in the EU in 2008 were used for testing the safety of cosmetic ingredients he said, adding that the real impact on global animal welfare is very small.

The EU market ban exempts ingredients tested prior to March 11 and the EU will not be able to impose its regulatory standards on countries outside the EU, according to the European Commission.

“Concerning the cosmetics that you can find now on the market, the EU impact assessment highlights that between 2500 and 7500 products could be lost to consumers each year,” Warzee said.

Although DETIC is in favour of the ban, he said science is not ready to provide alternatives that would satisfy animal rights concerns.

EU heads for new type of cigarette package

New cigarette packaging replacing all but the brand name with health warnings has been considered as a solution to reduce smoking rates in the European Union. However, some doubts remain on whether the European Union is going to adopt plain packaging in the future.

By Amel Semmache and So Jeong Lim

Example of Plain cigarette pack - Tobacco Control Supersite
Example of Plain cigarette pack – Tobacco Control Supersite



Powerful solution for EU youth smoking

Plain packaging is increasingly being considered by some EU member states. As plain packaging of cigarettes makes packages less attractive and includes bigger health warnings, It can make people deter from smoking; especially teenager who are highly receptive to cigarette brands’ marketing .


In sync with this tendency, on the Februry 25th, there was a the public hearing about European commission’s new proposal about tobacco which includes mandatory health warnings covering 75% of cigarette packages surface. Plain packaging was dealt with many times with the new proposal.


There are lots of voices in favor of plain packaging. Member of the European Parliament, Carl Schlyter, from the Greens-European Free Alliance thinks that the new proposal is not enough to prevent young people from smoking and suggests to adopt plain  packaging.


According to Karen Moore, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University (Australia), plain packaging has been shown to be important in reducing some of the positive perceptions people have about smoking, and she suggests the EU should follow this step.



– One of the main arguments for plain packaging is to ban all attractive marketing that targets young consumers.
Here, children express their enthusiasm on visually-appealing cigarette packages.

Untimely suggestion for EU

At the same time, others doubt that the EU is ready to adopt plain packaging.

François Xavier Vauchelle, assistant of Françoise Grossetête, Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), is not sure that plain packaging would be the solution to fight against tobacco dependency. He thinks that the EU needs to wait for more countries than Australia to use plain packaging and for studies and impact assessments to follow.


Even though the European Commission has an ambitious goal for reducing serious numbers of smokers, plain packaging does not seem as part of the agenda at the moment. While plain packaging has been highly considered by the European Commission, it is not part of its recent proposal on tobacco products regulation.


Frédéric Vincent, spokesperson of the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, explains that the plain packaging cannot be implemented as some member states strongly opposite it. “Let’s be frank, if we had proposed plain packaging, it’s very likely that it would not have been approved by the member states,” he says. “We’re going quite far with the 75%, giving the option for member states to go all the way with plain packages.”


In spite of many voices that suggest plain packaing, the EU has not taken the step of imposing the plain packaging yet. Having plain packaging could only become a reality if Member States make concessions.


GMO is a cornerstone in EU/US trade wars

– By Niels Anton Heilskov & Christopher Underwood.

The different views on genetically modified food in the US and EU could spoil trade agreements between the two economic superpowers.

Six EU countries have gone against the EU policies and temporarily banned the use of GMO’s all together.

The EU and US are the two biggest economic powers in the world controlling more than half the wealth in world. This will soon change as a result of the economic crisis and overall slow growth. By 2050 both the EU and US could expect to be overtaken by China.

This has made the two  players set a goal for establishing a free trade agreement within the next two years. This would result in an increase in GDP of 0.5-1%, but differences in the view on GMO in the two countries can prove too great to reach an agreement.

The challenge of creating a free trade agreement is not tariffs. The main challenge lies in making a system were all products accepted in one country is also automatically accepted in the other.

“ It’s a subject where we don’t have a similar understanding at all, and it is going to be the main challenge when it comes to accepting shared standards. It’s going to be a huge conflict, and it could very well end up putting this initiative on ice, as it has done before,” says professor and author of the publication “The GMO War, Jens Ladefoged Mortensen.

Even before the agreement talks have officially started, the GMO skeptics in EU are opposing changes to GMO standards. “The US want’s to prevent EU autonomy when it comes to GMO standards. They want us to change something that we have been defending for years!” says GMO skeptic, MEP, Jose Bové.

EU struggles to legislate tiny substances

By Stefan Sigaard Weichert and Luc Rinaldi.

A widespread lack of information on nanomaterials is preventing decision makers in the European Union from developing new measures to cover the potentially harmful tiny particles. A Member of European Parliament is calling for nanomaterials to be incorporated into the current chemical legislation, while lobbyists say the legislation should be left as is. 

Dan Jørgensen have been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 for the danish party Socialdemokraterne.
Dan Jørgensen has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 for the Danish party Socialdemokraterne. Photo: Luc Rinaldi

“I think that it is clear that nanomaterials are not properly regulated. There is a legislation, but the problem is that it doesn’t address nanomaterials specifically. It’s still a very unknown area, and we do not know what it can do,” says Dan Jørgensen, a Member of European Parliament for the Socialists and Democrats.

Nanomaterials – particles between 1 and 100 nanometres, or 800 times smaller than a human hair – are widely used substances, found in sprays, food and a number of other everyday products. While the risks of some nanomaterials are well documented (for example, nanosilver, which is used in paints, washing machines and antibacterial, is toxic and can affect living cells), the dangers of others aren’t yet known.

“When I first heard of this, I thought, ‘Let’s ban it, but when you look into it, you can see that it also has big potential. Nanomaterials can be efficient for the environment, cure diseases that we never thought we could heal, and do so many other good things. So it’s a balance,” says Dan Jørgensen, adding that it would be best to rewrite the EU´s current chemical legislation, REACH, so it covers nanomaterials.

But Lone Mikkelsen, chemicals policy officer for the Danish Ecological Council, does not support the idea of opening the REACH legislation. Instead, she proposes the creation of a “nano patch,” a separate piece of legislation specifically targeting nanomaterials.

“At first, we wanted a REACH revision because they could add revisions to the text for nanomaterials,” she says. “But the Commission argued that the industry could be too strong economically and actually water down the legal text.”

Lobbyists representing the nanoindustry also say that opening the text isn’t the solution, arguing that it would create uncertainty within the industry.

READ MORE: Lack of information prevents action on tiny substances with unknown effects

Quotas,the way to achieve gender balance on boards

By Hana Afifi and Nerea Reparaz.

EU companies risk to face sanctions without a minimum number of women on
company boards – a closer look at France and the UK.

Despite the fact that the new EU legislation proposal regarding women on boards is open
to effective national legislation, the UK refuses any EU intervention and thus refuses the
proposal. In contrast, France is on its way to achieving the 40% objective for women on
non-executive boards by 2020.
France and the UK agree that gender balance on company boards is necessary for gender
equality and for better economic performance purposes. The problem is with how to
achieve the balance.

Frontpage of 40% of women on boards to be required if EU adopts new controversial legislation