Genetically modified animals: A wanted and unwanted reality

Policy reports | 11.01.2012 | CGM/120111-01

Due to developments abroad, through either import requests or permit applications for market admittance, Europe will be faced with genetically modified (GM) animals and animal products in the future. This raises the question of whether the legislative framework and procedures in the Netherlands and Europe are equipped to deal with these developments and whether the present assessment framework is adequate for this purpose. This was why COGEM undertook to investigate the nature of these developments and the possible problems which they may raise.

In this report COGEM examined four topical and representative cases. In order to substantiate and augment the arguments which have been put forward, COGEM organised an international symposium on October 25th 2011 entitled ‘GM Animals: Perspectives and Perceptions’ in which a number of case studies were presented and discussed with a wide audience. The symposium findings have been included in this report.

Among its findings COGEM noted the following:

  • the present system of assessment of GM animals in Europe is aimed mainly at environmental and food safety issues, while a wider set of arguments applies to the developments surrounding cloned and GM animals.
  • it is unclear whether or not ethical considerations should form part of the assessment procedure related to the import of GM animal products.
  • under the present European admittance procedures the inclusion of alternatives, or of ethical or societal considerations, could be perceived as too narrow in the future.
  • with regard to future field tests with GM insects it is unclear whether an ethical assessment will also be necessary in the Netherlands, who should undertake this assessment, how it should be carried out and where it should be placed in the broader framework of considerations.
  • in an international context, ethical arguments may not be sufficient to restrict the import of cloned animals in the event of a WTO conflict. The report further notes that it would appear to be difficult to enforce a potential ban on the use in the food chain of the offspring of cloned animals.
  • a pledge on labelling which cannot be fulfilled could have an adverse impact on consumer and public confidence in government and the companies concerned in the food chain and that alternatives to this should be considered.

It is recommended that the Netherlands and the EU reflect on a position concerning the matters raised in this report which also takes into account what the consequences of certain decisions might be in terms of what is feasible in the international context.

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