In a prelude, EU Health Commissioner David Byrne on Thursday asked Europeans to base their view of food safety on science rather than fear.
The Irish commissioner said EU citizens risked a “collective neurosis” over the issue of genetically modified (GM) foods despite scientific evidence that he said showed GM products to be safe.
“The science-based message simply fails to get across. Citizens seem, by and large, to have made up their minds,” he told a conference on “risk perception” in public attitudes and policy-making.
“Further attempts at public persuasion might even prove to be counter-productive if citizens feel they are being leant on or otherwise coerced into changing their views,” he said.
But Byrne warned: “If we fail to make progress, there is a very real danger that an anti-science agenda may take root in European society leading to a society hampered and restricted by a collective neurosis.”
The EU has since 1999 imposed a de-facto moratorium on importing and cultivating GM crops, with opinion polls suggesting a high level of public mistrust of “Frankenfoods”.
“If we fail to make progress, there is a very real danger that an anti-science agenda may take root in European society”
That ban could be overturned on Monday, when the EU’s standing committee for the food chain, which gathers scientific representatives from the 15 member states, decides whether to allow the import of a form of GM sweet-corn, Bt-11.
The bloc’s decision is being closely watched by its trade partners, notably by the United States which claims that the de facto ban violates global trade rules.
The European Commission has proposed allowing the import of Bt-11, made by Swiss firm Syngenta, as part of a wider campaign by the EU’s executive arm to encourage GM cultivation.
At least 62 out of the 87 votes on the committee, under the EU’s system of qualified-majority voting which shares out votes according to the size of national populations, are needed to give Bt-11 authorisation.
A majority “yes” vote would make authorisation for the sweet corn automatic. A “no” decision would pass the question back to EU ministers.
Greenpeace has urged the EU to maintain its moratorium and refuse authorisation to Bt-11, an insect- and herbicide-resistant strain that is sold in the US.
The environmental campaign group called on the EU in November to keep out GM products, “for which there is already evidence of irreversible contamination of our food and of our agriculture”.