The bloc's executive, the European Commission, tabled proposals earlier this month giving governments the freedom to choose whether or not to grow GM crops (EurActiv 14/07/10).
To pass, the plans must first be approved by EU governments and lawmakers.
The move was seen as an attempt by the Commission to break a longstanding deadlock in EU GM approvals, which has seen just two products authorised for cultivation in Europe, restricting commercial plantings to less than 100,000 hectares.
Several EU governments have already criticised the proposals, and last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the plans as a first step towards dismantling the bloc's single market.
A first meeting of EU government officials to discuss the proposals in Brussels on Tuesday confirmed the widespread opposition to the plans.
"There is huge opposition against the proposals by member states, for several different reasons," the Belgian Presidency source told Reuters.
Some officials agreed with Merkel's view that the proposals would undermine the bloc's internal market, and others said they would leave the EU and its member states open to challenges in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a second EU source in the meeting said.
On Wednesday, Washington's most senior trade official said the proposals were unlikely to conform with "internationally accepted scientific standards" on GM crops, suggesting that the US could be prepared to challenge them if adopted by the EU.
Food chain fears
Last week, European industry associations representing the entire food chain expressed their "deep concern" at the Commission's proposals in a letter sent to the Belgian Presidency, the Commission and EU lawmakers.
"The new approach on GM cultivation sets a dangerous legal precedent, jeopardising the internal market for authorised products," the letter said.
Letting member states decide on GM crops will create new legal and commercial risks for operators, added the letter, which was signed by EU farm group Copa-Cogeca, food and drink industry confederation CIAA and biotech lobby EuropaBio, among others.
EU government ambassadors will meet in Brussels to discuss the proposals on 3 September, when they are expected to create a special working group of member-state environment and agriculture experts to lead talks on the plans.
EU agriculture ministers will then debate the proposals in Brussels at the end of September, followed by environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg in mid-October.
(EurActiv with Reuters.)