Commission prepares minimal reform of GMO imports

Only one type of GM maize is currently approved for cultivation in the EU. [Sarah Sammis/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / The European executive plans to present a new legal framework for GMO imports by the end of the month. Member states could be given the final say over imports, a possibility that disappoints environmentalists. EURACTIV France reports

After placing the issue of GMO cultivation in the EU in the hands of the member states, the European Commission is preparing to adopt the same approach for imports of GM products.

The Commission is due to present a new procedure for the authorisation for GMO imports into the EU. The subject has divided member states for years, and caused the European executive no small amount of embarrassment.

>> Read: Agriculture Commissioner promises GMO labelling, despite TTIP

Jean-Claude Juncker has promised to address the issue since the beginning of his political programme. “I will make sure that the procedural rules governing the various authorisations for GMOs are reviewed. I would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so,” he told the European Parliament in July 2014.

Authorisation procedures

In the firing line are the existing authorisation procedures for GMOs, which require a qualified majority in the Council, not a simple majority. This constraint has already caused the Council and the Commission to clash on the subject.

>> Read: MEPs approve national ban on GM crops cultivation

In order for the legislation to progress, the Commission had to offer an “à la carte” system, whereby member states, such as France, could choose to prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified crops within their borders.

This exemption clause gives member states the final say over GMO cultivation, without completely dismantling the EU’s decision making procedure. But it has been criticised for its legal ambiguity.

Justine Maillot from Greenpeace said, “On the authorisation procedure for GMO products for animal or human consumption, the Commission may opt for the same system of exemption, while we were expecting a real procedural reform.”

>> Read: EU agreement opens door for new GMO cultivation in 2015

The NGO is not the only voice to express regret at the introduction of another exemption clause. “The European Commission persists in its mistake of abandoning the European level of GMO regulation in order to renationalise decision making,” said the French Green MEP José Bové. “As a result, it is also abandoning the precautionary principle at the European level,” he added.

>> Read: EU one step closer to law on national GMO crop bans

Justine Maillot warned that “the Commission’s proposal would leave countries with a fake right to opt-out that won’t stand up in any court, as EU free market rules will always prevail over national opt-outs.”

Brussels is currently dealing with 17 authorisation requests for GMO imports for human or animal consumption.

The European Union has some of the world's strictest regulations on genetically modified seeds. They are only authorised after a complete evaluation of the risks.

In the EU, only one GM crop is approved for commercial cultivation: Monsanto’s insect resistant maize, MON 810. Of the total area of GM maize grown in the EU in 2012 (129,000 hectares) one country, Spain, contributed more than 90%. But Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland have adopted safeguard clauses prohibiting the cultivation of GMOs on their territory.

After three years, the European Parliament approved a directive on 13 January, allowing any member state to refuse the cultivation of GMOs.

15 or 22 April: Presentation of the reform of import regulations for GMOs for human or animal consumption.

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