Flubs Doom GMO Potato Approval, EU Court Says

     (CN) - A decision by EU regulators to approve genetically modified potatoes for animal consumption failed to account for new evidence of health risks and must be rejected, Europe's general court ruled Friday.
     Germany-based BASF petitioned Swedish authorities to approve a GMO potato known as Amflora, initially for use in the paper industry. Several member states weighed in, so the issue automatically went to EU authorities for a final decision.
     In the meantime, BASF sent a second petition to approve Amflora for animal consumption. Procedurally, this meant the European Commission had to seek a scientific opinion from the EU's food safety agency before sending the matter on to lawmakers for final vetting.
     Initially, food safety scientists at EFSA presented favorable opinions of the potato in 2005, and the EU Council did not weigh in. At that point, regulators theoretically could have approved Amflora - except for some very vocal criticisms from a handful of scientists at EFSA who opposed introducing GMOs into the food chain.
     The commission then offered EFSA the chance to amend their report, and in 2009 the agency adopted a consolidated opinion that Amflora posed no risk to human health or the environment but included the dissenting views as well. Regulators approved both of BASF's petitions in 2010.
     Hungary sued the commission over Amflora's approval, supported by France, Luxembourg, Austria and Poland. And in its ruling Friday, the EU's second-highest court found procedural flaws in the commission's decision requiring annulment.
     Specifically, regulators failed to send the EFSA's amended opinion - and the dissent to approving the GMO - to lawmakers for review. If they had done so the council may have had a very different view than it took the first time around, according to the Luxembourg-based court.
     Given the fact that committee votes on Amflora had been deeply divided the first time around - and that parts of the final EFSA report expressed deep doubts about the safety of the GMO potato - the council could very well have voted to halt the decision, the court said in its ruling, which was not made available in English.
     "Because the commission significantly failed to fulfill its procedural obligations, the general court has annulled the connected decisions," the court said in a statement.
     The commission has two months to appeal the general court's decision to the Court of Justice, but said in a press briefing that it would review the ruling before deciding how to proceed.
     In the years since the 2010 filing, EU policy and public opinion for genetically modified organisms has shifted drastically. Europe's GMO market is the most regulated in the world, and so far only one genetically modified crop is grown commercially in Europe - an insect-resistant corn developed by GMO kingpin Monsanto - on only 247,000 acres of farmland.
     BASF has since moved its plant science headquarters to the U.S., since lawmakers here have long welcomed GMO crops with open arms. Farmers have converted over 40 percent of U.S. cropland - 170 million acres in 2012 - to GMO plantings, growing 45 percent of biotech crops worldwide.