MEPs voted on Tuesday to amend a Commission proposal for an EU regulation that would allow member states to restrict or ban the cultivation on their territory of GM crops, which have been given safety approval at EU level.
The Commission's initial proposal suggested that member states could restrict or ban the cultivation "on grounds other than those related to the assessment of the adverse effect on health and environment which might arise from the deliberate release or the placing on the market of GMOs".
But the proposals have sparked a wave of criticism, with stakeholders fearing they could lead to fragmentation of the internal market and legal uncertainty for farmers. Some of the proposals are also deemed incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
The Commission's indicative list of grounds upon which member states could restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation includes public morality - such as religious, philosophical and ethical concerns over GM technology - public order and avoiding GM contamination of other products or GM-free schemes.
Banning GM crop cultivation on environmental grounds
Lawmakers yesterday voted to include environmental grounds - such as pesticide resistance, biodiversity protection and the invasiveness of the GM crops - among the grounds on which member states could say 'no' to cultivation of genetically-engineered crops.
Environmental grounds "would provide greater legal protection against possible WTO challenges to GMO bans," MEPs said.
The report, drafted by French MEP Corinne Lepage (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), was adopted with 34 votes in favour, 10 against and 16 abstentions.
Further grounds for restrictions backed by the House's environment committee relate to the socioeconomic impacts of GM crop cultivation, where risk of contamination of conventional crops (cross contamination) "cannot practicably be managed". Socioeconomic grounds could also be referred to as a means of protecting other types of agriculture, such as organic farming, they said.
Back in 2009, a joint European Commission and member-state reflection group was launched to define and consider the socio-economic implications of placing GM crops on the market - such as a cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of the entry of GM seeds into the agricultural system. The results of the socio-economic assessment should be presented shortly.
No to 'buffer zones'
An amendment tabled for approval by the environment committee sought to establish EU-wide minimum buffer zones between GM and conventional (non-GM) fields to avoid unintentional contamination by GMOs, but MEPs rejected the proposals.
However, they agreed that member states must take measures to avoid the presence of GMOs in other products. According to the existing EU directive (2001) on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs, such measures are currently optional.