EU Commission treating risk assessment of transgenic plants as a formality

Testbiotech requests for a revision of GE soybean and maize approvals

30 July 2021 / The EU Commission rejected a Testbiotech request for the internal review of three EU approvals. The import of the GE (genetically engineered) plants and their usage in food and feed was authorised by the EU Commission in January 2021. The transgenic plants (maize and soybean) produce insecticides and are designed to be resistant to herbicides, such as glyphosate. Testbiotech filed a request for a review of the decision in March because risk assessment was not carried out in accordance with the EU regulations. The EU Parliament adopted a resolution against the market approvals for these plants at the end of last year.

EU regulation requests that the field trials necessary for risk assessment are conducted under realistic agricultural conditions. However, this was not the case for the approvals in question. An example: one of the new approvals was for a maize variety produced by Bayer (MON 87427 x MON 87460 x MON 89034 x MIR162 x NK603). This maize was crossed several times and therefore inherits several GE constructs. The intention of the company was to produce a maize variety that is not only resistant to herbicides, but also produces insecticides and has improved drought tolerance.

Detailed examination of the data provided by industry revealed however that the maize and the interactions of the new trait combination never were tested in drought conditions. Instead, the plants were watered when necessary during the field trials. Moreover, only around 900 grams of glyphosate were sprayed onto the plants per hectare during field trials, even though more than three kilograms per hectare are often used in normal agricultural practice.

Although Testbiotech has shown in detail that the legal requirements were not fulfilled, the EU Commission only referred to EFSA opinions without checking the facts. As a result, the risk assessment and EU approval are simply being treated as a formality. EU regulations set high standards to guarantee health and environmental safety. Testbiotech now is considering filing a case at the EU Court to prevent any further erosion of standards in risk assessment.

Christoph Then,, Tel +49 (0) 0151 54638040