On of the first things new EU Commissionair for Health and Consumers John Dalli did today was to authorized BASF's GM potato Amflora.
The EU Commission is only in office since a week, and the responsibility for GM crops was moved from DG Environment to DG Health. Yesterday Dalli talked to members of the EU parliament, but he then nevertheless took a fast decision then.

MON810 cultivation in the EU is decreasing. Not only big parts of the population, but also an increasing number of regional and national governments declare their opposition. Luxembourg is reported to consider a ban, and in the German parliament a discussion about stopping MON810 cultivation is under way.

Friends of the Earth published their 2009 copy of their report "who benefits from gm crops?" and that's certainly worth reading (report, summary).
Over the years there has been criticism about the cultivation figures published annually by ISAAA because Clive James repeatedly has refused to give information about where these numbers are coming from while they are continuously refered to as the only available source for GM acreage worldwide. Not surprisingly ISAAA saw an increase in 2008 again, speaking of a "historic milestone"
However, FoE come to a very different conclusion when they reviewed the last ISAAA report as well as figures given by EuropaBio. ISAAA increased the acreage it reports by simply multiplying each hectare by the number of GM traits grown on it. So a hectare of Bt maize is a hectare of GM cultivation, but a hectare of Bt maize with herbicide tolerance adds up to two hectares - at least in the eyes of ISAAA. So if all agricultural land would be grown with triple-stack crops, we suddenly would have three times as much agricultural as before?

The EU Commission has put forward draft decisions to approve of the two GM maize events Bt11 and 1507 for cultivation in the EU. Last year, Environmental Commissioner Dimas still had proposed not to not approve of them, but neither his colleagues nor the EFSA wanted to follow his reasoning.
The next meeting of the EU biotech committee is scheduled for 16 February and it is expected that the GM maize cultivation will be put on the agenda then.

According to a German newspaper report there will be no Amflora cultivation in 2009. In May 2008, the EU Commission had requested an additional opinion from the EFSA after memberstates did not find a qualified majority to approve or reject BASF's application to cultivate the GM ptotato in Europe. Concerns were raised repeatedly about the antibiotic resistance marker gene nptII in Amflora, that among others concerns antibiotica used as a last resort for multi-resistant tuberculosis.
But a closer look at the Draft Decision by the EU Commission also shows that the EU Commission came to a very different conclusion about risks and risk management of Amflora cultivation. While the EFSA stated that they agreed with BASF that no case-specific monitoring was needed, the EU Commission drafted a decision in which case-specific monitoring was requested to monitor effects on potato feeding animals on and around the fields - an issue the EFSA had not even considered in its review of the application. (More details in the German report EU-Risikomanagement.)
Already in 2008 2008, BASF had sued the EU Commission for unduly delaying a decision. A new EFSA opinion was expected on 15 December, but now will only be published in March 2009 - too late for planting in 2009, independent of what the outcome of this new opinion will be.

]On 4 December 2008, the EU environmental ministers decided that there needs to be a better system to assess the risks of GM crops. They cam to the conclusion that it would be especially important to study long-term effects, and that EFSA should pay more attention to the concerns raised by EU member states.

An assessment of statements and decisions by the EU Commission shows that the EU Commission repeatedly points to the independence of the EFSA instead of taking up the responsibility to assess and control the work of the EFSA. So far the Commission usually hides behind the EFSA opinions and in practice even leaves the power to take decisions to the EFSA even though this is in contradiction to the EU regulation. In other cases however, like the cultivation of Bt11, 1507 maize and Amflora, at least some parts of the EU Commission disagree with the EFSA opinion.

Christoph Then & Antje Lorch. Study for Hiltrud Breyer (MEP) Bündnis 90/Die Grnen. December 2008.

Die Auswertung von Stellungnahmen und Entscheidungen der EU-Kommission führt vor Augen, dass die EU-Kommission sich mit Verweis auf die Unabhängigkeit der EFSA ihrer Aufgabe entzogen hat, klare Vorgaben für deren Arbeit zu machen, die EFSA-Angaben zu prüfen und zu kontrollieren. Sie hat sich bisher hinter den Gutachten der EFSA versteckt und im Endeffekt Entscheidungsgewalt auf die EU-Lebensmitelbehörde verlagert, obwohl dies laut entsprechenden EU-Vorschriften nicht möglich ist. In einigen Fälle jedoch, z.B.

Christoph Then & Antje Lorch, 2008. Studie im Auftrag von Hiltrud Breyer, MEP, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen.

[img_assist|nid=239|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=43]On 13 November 2008, the Dutch parliament decided that the agricultural minister Verburg should vote against the approval of the herbicide-tolerant soy MON89788 at the next Council Meeting of the EU agricultural ministers. Reasons are especially the failure of EFSA to consider long-term effects of GM crops.

[img_assist|nid=239|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=43]On 8 September, the EU Commission allowed the import of a new GM soy event that so far is mainly grown in the US. This does not only open the way for new GM soy in animal feed but it might also work as an incentive to allow its cultivation in South American countries because they now don't have to worry that soy contaminated with this event could not be exported to Europe.