(CN) – Reviving a challenge to Monsanto’s marketing of food that contains genetically modified organisms, Europe’s highest court ruled Wednesday that an environmental review is a suitable way to address health concerns.
The German nongovernmental organization TestBioTech brought the review demand in May 2015, about a month after regulators at the European Commission authorized Monsanto’s application to market food, ingredients and animal feed containing genetically modified soybeans.
Setting the stage for such authorization, the European Food Safety Authority determined previously that genetically modified soybeans presented no more concerns than non-genetically modified soybeans with respect to potential effects on human and animal health or on the environment.
TestBioTech meanwhile claimed that it had a basis to intervene under an EU regulation known as the Aarhus Convention, which enables NGOs to participate in the decision-making process in environmental matters.
Among six separate claims, TestBioTech alleged that there was a lack of guidance from the European Food Safety Authority on how genetically modified crops with significantly altered nutritional content affect health. It also claimed that regulators had failed to consider herbicide residues when examining the impact of the consumption of genetically modified food and feed on health.
The European Commission nevertheless declined TestBioTech’s bid for review, saying that while the Aarhus Convention concerns environmental-risk assessment, the claims at issue involve health.
TestBioTech also struck out in 2016 at Europe’s General Court, but the European Court of Justice annulled the commission’s decision Wednesday.
Citing EU law that bars the marketing of food and feed that cause adverse effects on human health, animal health or the environment, the Luxembourg-based court emphasized that the genetically modified “soybeans constituted, when being cultivated, elements modified by human intervention that were in interaction with the natural environment.”
“Accordingly, genetic modifications of those elements of the environment were liable to have consequences for their nutritional value or to represent a risk for food safety and constituted therefore matters within the scope of environmental law within the meaning of Regulation No 1367/2006,” the ruling states.
The court also highlighted that the feed “is liable to be consumed by animals that will interact with the environment or will be part of the environment.” “Consequently, those animals themselves constitute elements of the environment and the effects on their nutritional value as a result of the feed concerned or the fact that they may contravene food safety requirements are therefore matters that fall within the scope of environmental law within the meaning of Regulation No 1367/2006,” the ruling states.
The court was not persuaded by an argument from the commission “that the mere fact that the food or feed concerned may have undergone biological or technical processing in their country of origin does not mean that the safety of the products in question has any bearing on the state of the environment.”
Indeed the environmental law at issue, the court emphasized, “is not confined exclusively to the state of the natural environment within the European Union.”
Such an “argument also disregards the fact that the animals which consume the feed concerned are affected by that feed,” the ruling continues.
“In the light of all the foregoing, it must be concluded that the Commission, in finding that the greater part of the complaints raised by the applicant in its request for internal review did not fall within the scope of environmental law, erred in law,” the ruling concludes. “Consequently, the first plea in law must be upheld and the contested decision must be annulled in its entirety, there being no need to examine the applicant’s second plea in law.”