Biotechnology Law (2003): Current Survey of Substantive EU Environmental Law
THE YEARBOOK OF EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, Vol. 5, pp. 287-326, T.F.M. Etty & H. Somsen, eds, Oxford University Press, 2005
42 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2010
Date Written: February 1, 2004
Overview of recent (EU and international) legal and political developments in the regulatory field of agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM food governance. Year under review: 2003.
Introduction: The survey year 2003 saw a storm of landmark events in the policy area of biotechnology law, both in the European Union (EU) and at the international level. The prediction in last year’s survey, that the transitory year 2002 would build up to a plethora of legislative and political developments in 2003, certainly was fulfilled.
During the summer, the EU adopted long-awaited and fiercely debated new legislation on the authorization, marketing, traceability, and labelling of genetically modified (GM) food and feed products, and on the export and transboundary movements, and the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This so-called ‘GM package’ has proved to be one of the most imperative and sensitive legislative dossiers of the EU in recent years, of course wrought with political compromises. Hence, it should come as no surprise that its final adoption has been heralded both as a victory and as a failure.
In addition to the new regulations, improvements and clarifications were adopted for the existing legislation on GMOs, and the role of science in this system, while the EU policy for biotechnology and life sciences was also reviewed. While the new regulatory framework constitutes an important step towards a comprehensive coverage of the legal issues related to applications of modern biotechnology in the EU, some important aspects are still lacking. Among these are the issues of coexistence measures for the parallel cultivation of GM, conventional, and organic crops, and related seed purity standards and liability rules for damage caused by GMOs. Several developments in 2003 underscored the conflicts and differences of opinion that continue to exist between the Commission and several Member States, other Community Institutions, and last but not least, the European public.
The international law realm displayed a similarly high level of activity. Flesh was put on the bones of the international control of biotechnology and biosafety, with the entry into force of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Modest progress was made towards the inclusion of GMO issues in the framework of access to information, public participation, and decision-making rights under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention). Moreover, the European Community (EC) decided its accession to two key international standard setting bodies in the area of plant protection and food safety, in a move to enhance its influence in these fora. These and other standard setting bodies also adopted key international standards relating to biotechnology and the environment during the survey year.
However, bones of contention remain, in particular the trade law ‘food fight’ in the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the EU’s GMOs policy. The dispute that has been looming for some years has now become a fait accompli, as the United States (US), Canada, and Argentina have put the WTO dispute settlement procedures in motion.
In short, 2003 - the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix - was an exceptionally busy and tumultuous year for biotechnology law. .
Keywords: GMO, biotechnology, GM food, coexistence, risk regulation, environmental liability, EU law, EC environmental law, Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, labelling, contained use, case law, life sciences, WTO, European environmental policy, Precautionary principle
JEL Classification: K32, K33, K39, K23, K10, K13, K19, K00, O13, Q17, Q18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation