European consultation on GM animals
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its Guidance for the risk assessment of GM animals in Europe in May 2013, opening the door to commercial production and releases or escapes of GM insects, birds, fish, farm animals and pets. The Guidance still fails to properly address the issue of GM insects in the food chain.
In summer 2012, EFSA held a consultation on environmental risk assessment of genetically modified GM fish, insects, birds, and mammals (including pets, wild and farm animals) in the European Union (EU).
This guidance covers the introduction of many different types of GM animals into the European countryside, rivers or seas, their use in factory farming, and even their introduction as pets into people's homes.
If you are concerned about this, see the "what you can do" section on this page.
The European Ombudsman investigated a complaint from GeneWatch about the guidance. The ombudsman ruled that EFSA should revise its conflict of interest rules due to the role of an Oxford University scientist, who had collaborated extensively with Oxitec, in drafting EFSA's guidance for GM insect regulations. Oxitec is a spin out company from Oxford University and the university is one of its investors. Read the decision.
What is included in the EFSA consultation?
The consultation includes:
- GM fish. The section on GM fish is designed to facilitate the introduction of GM salmon produced by the company Aquabounty. There are major concerns that these fish could damage wild salmon populations if they escape into the environment. Other GM fish species are expected to be introduced if GM salmon is approved.
- GM insects.The section of the consultation on GM insects has been heavily influenced by the UK company Oxitec, which is developing genetically modified mosquitoes and agricultural pests, with funding from the Swiss multinational agricultural company Syngenta. Oxitec has a patent which lists more than 50 species of insect it wishes to genetically modify and release into the environment. Syngenta wants to market GM insects for use by farmers in Europe and worldwide: one of the main proposed applications is to combine them with GM pest-resistant crops (Bt crops) to try to slow the spread of resistance to these crops. In the longer term potential commercial applications include pesticide-resistant bees.
- GM birds. GM chickens are being developed which are supposed to slow the spread of bird flu in factory farms. These birds raise many concerns, including the possibility that they will make the risk of bird flu worse.
- GM mammals. The consultation also covers GM mammals, including farm animals such as cows, pets such as cats, and wild animals such as rabbits, all of which could cause harm if they are released or escape into the environment. Products from some of these animals, such as milk from GM cows, may end up in the food chain. Genetically modifying mammals often causes suffering because many attempts fail resulting in aborted fetuses or stillbirths.
What you can do
The EFSA consultation closed for comments at end August 2012. However, there are still things you can do if you are concerned about the proposals in the EFSA consultation:
- Contact your MP
- Contact your MEPs
- Contact your local supermarkets
- Let other people know.
Contacting your MP and MEPs
You can contact your MP and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) if you are concerned about the EFSA consultation and proposals to introduce GM fish, insects, birds, farm animals and pets into the air, land and sea in Britain.
Things you could point out to them include:
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) does not have the remit or competence to assess environmental harms should any of these GM animals be released or escape into the British countryside or seas.
- The consultation ignores the problems there will be keeping a GM-free food supply if these proposals go ahead. There are no plans in the consultation to trace where GM fish or cattle eggs or sperm will end up, or to prevent GM caterpillars, insect eggs or adults insects from entering the food supply on cabbages or other crops.
The most effective thing to do is to ring your MP's constituency office and ask to make an appointment to see him or her, but you can also write a letter or send an email. Contacting your MEPs is important too because the European Parliament should have a say about EFSA's work.
Contacting your local supermarkets or other food shops
You can write to, email or phone your local supermarkets, or call in and ask to see the manager. Things you can ask them are:
- What is their policy on selling GM foods?
- What is their policy on selling meat, milk or dairy products from animals fed on GM feed?
- What is their policy on selling meat, milk or dairy products from GM animals, such as chicken and cows, if these products enter Britain in the future?
- What is their policy on selling vegetables, fruit or other crops which may contain GM insect eggs or caterpillers, should GM insects be used in British agriculture in the future?
Your local food shops might also appreciate being told about what is going on.
Letting other people know
You can let other people know about this website and also write letters to your local press or national newspapers.
If you would like more information please contact us.
We would be interested to know about any replies you get from your MP, MEPs or supermarkets, or coverage in your local press.
- Press releases
- GeneWatch UK PR: Planned releases of genetically modified (GM) fruit flies should be halted until food contamination issues are addressed 4th September 2013
- GeneWatch UK PR: Response to EFSA Guidance on risk assessment of GM animals 23rd May 2013
- GeneWatch UK PR: GeneWatch UK slams adoption of GM animals guidance by EU advisory committee 18th April 2013
- GeneWatch UK PR: GM insects in food, environment: European Ombudsman investigates conflicts-of-interest at EU regulator 26th March 2013
- GeneWatch UK PR: Billions of genetically modified bugs will spread in fruit and veg under new EU proposals (23rd August 2012) 23rd August 2012
- External links
- Official documents
- EFSA: Guidance on the environmental risk assessment of genetically modified animals (23rd May 2013)
- European Ombudsman: investigation (20th March 2013) 20th March 2013
EFSA: Public consultation on the draft Guidance Document on the Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Animals
Deadline for responses: 31st August 2012.
- EFSA: GM fish panel working group
- EFSA: GM mammals and birds working group
EFSA: GM insects working group
Panel member Michael Bonsall includes his collaboration with Oxitec in his declaration of interests. He states incorrectly that Oxford University receives no financial benefit from its relationship with the company (the University is in fact an investor in Oxitec). Panel member John Mumford declares his role in the risk assessment project Mosqguide for GM mosquitoes, but does not mention that Oxitec is a partner in this project. Luke Alphey (an advisor to the panel) declares his role as Chief Scientific Officer at Oxitec and that he has investments in the company and patents on its technology. His declaration notes that Syngenta is funding Oxitec to develop GM Lepidoptera (a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies).
- Consultation responses
- GeneWatch UK letter to European Ombudsman: response to EFSA re GM animals guidance 4th September 2013
- GeneWatch UK complaint to European Ombudsman: EFSA's GM animals risk assessment guidance 26th March 2013
- GeneWatch UK response to EFSA's consultation on environmental risk assessment of GM animals 23rd August 2012
- GeneWatch UK open letter to Commissioner Dalli re GM animals 23rd August 2012
- Press articles
- Nutraingredients: EFSA must revise its conflict of interest rules: European Ombudsman (3rd February 2015)
- Public Service Europe: Public given little say on GM animals in Europe (18th April 2013)
- The Ecologist: ANALYSIS: Are we being told the full truth about GM mosquitoes? (13th September 2012)
- Europolitics: Anti-GM group challenges Dalli on conflict of interest at EFSA (5th September 2012)
- Farming UK: GM animals 'could spark major backlash' (5th September 2012)
- Public Service Europe: GM bugs could spread in fruit and veg under EU proposals (24th August 2012)
- Daily Mail: 'Frankenstein' meat could get go-ahead in EU: Safety fears over the use of GM animals (14th July 2012)
Sunday Times: That buzzing is GM mosquitoes heading our way [Subscription needed] (8th July 2012)
Reports that Mike Bonsall admitted he was an author of the GM animal draft safety guidelines and confirmed there had been pressure from the biotech industry to get the rules written so that work on the safety case could begin.