Improve monitoring of GMOs in the environment
Following the identification of genetically modified rapeseed plants growing near Rouen, the Agency was asked to assess the effectiveness of the measures applied to eradicate them and prevent the accidental release of GMOs into the environment more generally. It recommends strengthening monitoring plans and, in particular, mapping the areas of France most at risk of their release.
Genetically modified rapeseed found by the roadside
In late February 2022, unauthorised genetically modified (GM) rapeseed was found by the Inf'OGM Association growing by the side of the road in an industrial port area near Rouen. To avoid any risk of production and release of pollen and seeds, these rapeseed plants were destroyed at the request of the Directorate General for Food, which then asked the Agency to assess the effectiveness of the measures applied. The Agency recommended the complete destruction of any plants observed and their roots, along with regular monitoring of the entire area in question throughout the year, in order to pre-empt the flowering of any new plants.
Shortcomings identified in monitoring plans
Marketing authorisation for a genetically modified organism (GMO) for food and feed use allows its import, processing and use in the European Union (see box below). It is systematically accompanied by a monitoring plan that the authorisation holder and the operators handling the product are responsible for implementing, in order to prevent any environmental risk associated with the release of the GMO. With regard to rapeseed, the monitoring plan includes procedures to limit seed loss and spillage, and the systematic destruction of any plants that may have grown near unloading and processing sites.
Following its expert appraisal, the Agency stressed the shortcomings of these monitoring plans, especially with regard to environmental monitoring outside the sites of the operators concerned.
Improve the precision and rigour of monitoring plans
ANSES recommends that monitoring plans for environmental effects be improved to make them more precise and rigorous. In practice, this means extending monitoring to all unloading and transport areas and their immediate environment, in order to avoid the risk of GM plants persisting in these areas following the accidental release of seeds. To limit the risks of release, ANSES also recommends that the measures relating to the conditions of GM seed transport, unloading, storage and handling be described more precisely in these monitoring plans.
Map risk areas
In addition to Rouen, where the GM rapeseed was released, the Agency points out that France has other sites for the import, storage and processing of GM seeds.
It therefore recommends identifying the areas where the risk of accidental release of these seeds is highest. They include:
ports where GM seeds are imported;
industrial sites where GM seeds are stored or processed;
railways, waterways and roads used to transport goods between the above locations.
These highly sensitive areas should then be subject to reinforced controls to avoid any risk of release into the environment. The Agency suggests that these new measures be coordinated at European level as part of the post-authorisation monitoring of these products.
Which GMOs are authorised and for which uses?
GMOs are subject to marketing authorisation (MA), which is granted by the European Commission after the risks to health and the environment have been assessed.
Concerning the import, processing and use in food and feed, around a hundred GMOs have been authorised in the European Union. These authorisations are for maize, soybean, rapeseed, cotton and sugar beet.
Concerning crops, to date, only one GM plant variety (MON 810 maize) has been authorised within the European Union. Each Member State may allow or prohibit crops from being grown on their land, and this variety is only grown in Spain and Portugal. In France, growing GM plants for commercial purposes has been prohibited since 2008.