Individual farmers can’t rely on ‘public order’ protection against GMO disclosure

Jeremy Phillips

When considering the balancing act between (i) the individual’s right to enjoy the confidentiality of information concerning him, (ii) the public duty to disclose such data and (iii) the need to prevent or reduce the risk of breaches of public order if that information is imparted, yesterday’s ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Communities in Case C‑552/07, Commune de Sausheim v Pierre Azelvandre, a reference for a preliminary ruling from from the Conseil d’État (France), is worth a quick glance.

This is not a classic set of data protection facts. Azelvandre asked the Commune de Sausheim to disclose to him, regarding the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) taking place within that commune, details that included the planting record for the parcel of land on which the GMOs were planted. The Commune was reluctant to do so since, once the parcel of land was identified, the identity of its occupant would be known — and the Commune felt that that such disclosure would prejudice the privacy and safety of the farmers concerned. The matter ended up on a reference to the Court, which was asked to decide whether the duty to disclose information under Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms allowed any exception for the protection of public order or other interests protected by law. The Court held, on an interpretation of the relevant provisions of EU law, that no such exception existed.

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