All the EU's heavyweights opposed proposals put forward in July by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, aimed at ending more than a decade of deadlock on the GM crop cultivation in the EU.
Brussels' plan was criticised both by traditionally anti-GMO countries such as France and Italy and member states that have long been pro-GMO, such as Spain. Germany, the UK and Poland also opposed the proposal.
"It is not in one or two months that we can reach a compromise. The issue will be subject to long negotiations," acknowledged acting Belgian Agriculture Minister and current president of the EU Agriculture Council Sabine Laruelle.
Member states fear that the proposal may lead to the fragmentation of the internal market for agriculture goods. The Commission's proposal is also deemed incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
"The proposal does not undermine the internal market and it is not against WTO rules. It is the present situation which creates problems with the WTO," said Commissioner Dalli, responding to critics during a press conference in Brussels.
However, the Commission's plan is at risk of being withdrawn or radically modified. As a transitional measure, ministers agreed to establish a working group aimed at addressing the issues raised by critics of the proposals.
Dalli is also hoping that environment ministers, who also have a say on the matter, will adopt a less critical approach towards his idea. "Negotiations will go on at the Environment Council in three weeks," he said. The environment ministers are scheduled to meet on 14 October.
Belgian Minister Laruelle said it would be necessary to better inform the general public about GMOs to avoid dangerous simplifications. "Not all GMOs are bad, and not all are good," she said.
According to a Eurobarometer survey published in 2008, 58% of European citizens oppose GMOs, while only 21% declare themselves in favour of genetically-modified organisms. In some countries, such as Slovenia, Greece or Cyprus, over three quarters of the population are against GMOs.