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Andriukaitis warns regulation by public opinion could harm EU food safety

Outgoing EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner defends safety record of genetically modified organisms in exclusive interview with IEG Policy.

Outgoing EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has hit out at regulation by public opinion rather than science-based policy and defended genetically modified organisms as safe based on assessments not just from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but also internationally.

“Some people don’t accept science as a reality. Then you can see different consequences. Speaking of GM, you know that we have EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, and a science-based approach is the only one which can help us fundamentally to have a food safety system,” Andriukaitis told us, going on to ask IEG Policy readers: “are you ready to accept that our food safety should be based on public opinion or our food safety system should be based on evidence?”

The outgoing Commissioner warned: “If you agree that we can only follow public opinion, and that’s something, then I can tell you that will be the final stage of our food safety system because we can’t build our food safety system based on public opinion, for sure.”

Andriukaitis noted that public opinion changes. “But if you look at public opinion and influence of public opinion, you see how many times public opinion changes. One thing says bad, after a few years ‘oh, no, no it’s all good’, ‘please drink coffee because it is okay’ then ‘oh no don’t drink coffee because it will kill you’.”

For Andriukaitis, “my answer is the same, nutrient profiles should be based on science.  Risk factor analysis should be based on science.  Food safety assessment should be based on science and only.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that “another problem now is trust in science, that is a problem, and some are playing games with this trust in science because now science is more and more specialised, more and more sophisticated and more and more requires very complex measures to understand it.  And if people that don’t understand it, do not see direct link between, they do not trust science, especially those that say that science is in the hands of industry and to them the issue is also the main argument ‘look because they are in the hands of the industry and because industry can pay money we are not ready to trust science’.”

Improved transparency

Andriukaitis underlined that this lack of trust about both GMOs and glyphosate was why the Commission had proposed transparency issues in the general food law revision, “because otherwise I see the future big crisis of our food safety system. If we destroy science-based assessments, it will be disastrous and then there will be no possibility to have one single market.  Can you imagine?”

Nevertheless, the outgoing Commission argued that opposition to GMOs was not just about food or food safety. “It’s absolutely clear and when you speak about the opposition of GM of course GM issue is not about only food, it’s about understanding of biotechnologies, it’s about biodiversity, it’s about use of pesticides, it’s about multinational corporations, it’s many, many political arguments but not science-based arguments.

“If I ask you how many people died because they use GM food, please tell me, do you know how many people died.  Can you show me two examples? I know how many people died because of tobacco and it is clear, it’s evidence but you have not one case of people who died because they are using GM soy milk! Not one.”

Andriukaitis acknowledged the need to discussion issues such as climate change, monoculture, biotechnologies and diversification, stressing that they were different issues.  “But please don’t mix all the issues into one and if we are speaking about food safety we should be based on scientific assessment.  Don’t argue about it looking at the prevalence of multinational corporations in the market.  Sorry that’s two different issues, but if you are mixing, you have a political cocktail, which can destroy your trust in scientific assessment.”

The Commissioner underlined: “From a scientific point of view, I know that I will follow EFSA and EFSA is clear, not only EFSA, we have data around the globe and science is clear that they have no facts, scientific evidence to ban GM food and GM feed, but if you are mixing different issues like some political schools or some NGOs it’s a different issue.  I am not ready to follow NGOs’ opinions because it’s not my competence.  I know NGOs’ opinions but sorry, I am obliged to sign conclusions and if the conclusions are from EFSA that it is not carcinogenic, not mutagenic, not tetragenic okay.”

Andriukaitis defended GMOs over criticism that they harm biodiversity, first noting that it was a matter for the environment commissioner.  He said that “protecting biodiversity doesn’t throw out GM technologies because GM technologies can help us protect biodiversity that is a major issue and GM food is the same.  You can see today brilliant achievements with new breeding techniques, which can help us to guarantee a high level of safe food production, which do not use pesticides, which do not require fertilisers, some of those crops are resistant to drought and they can help us re-cultivate desert.”

 

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