EU agreement opens door for new GMO cultivation in 2015

A single variety of corn is the only allowed GMO in the EU. [F_A/Flickr]

The Juncker Commission has brought four years of discussions on GMO crops to a close, extracting a compromise from the European Parliament and the Council. Member states that do not want GMOs cultivated inside their borders will retain the right to enforce a ban. EURACTIV France reports

The trilogue negotiations (between the Commission, Parliament and European Council) over the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe continued late into the night of 3 December, ending with a provisional agreement.

This highly sensitive debate, which lasted 24 hours, was a priority for the new Commission.

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

The agreed text leaves Europe sitting on the fence on the issue: member states still have the right to ban genetically modified crops, which are currently only grown in Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

But new GMOs, already validated by the Commission, will be put on the market in the European Union as soon as the adoption of the text is finalised. This means the 7 GMOs already approved but not cultivated in Europe could find their way into European fields as soon as the text is finalised – in theory as early as next year.

Political success for the Juncker Commission

In a statement issued on 4 December, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Commissioner for Health, who was present throughout the 24 hours negotiations, welcomed the agreement, stating that it would “give Member States the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory, without affecting the EU risk assessment”.

The Commissioner added that “the text agreed is in line with President Juncker’s commitment, as reflected in his Political Guidelines, to give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment”.

He also pointed out that the agreement remains provisional until it has been adopted by the Parliament and the European Council, which may take some time: it is unlikely that Europe’s fields will be planted with newly-approved GMOs next spring.

Anger from biotech lobby and the Greens

The situation in France, where public opinion overwhelmingly supports the government’s decision to ban GMOs, is unlikely to change in the near future.

The French Socialist MEP Gilles Pargneaux welcomed the agreement, which he said would “guarantee the protection of the consumers, farmers and member states that, like France, want to say “no” to GMOs”.

The text of the agreement gives “compulsory guidance to Member States for the development of coexistence measures, including in border areas,” in order to avoid cross-pollination.

The compromise reached by the European Institutions quickly attracted anger from the parties on both sides of the argument.

>> Read: GMO lobby sees new Juncker Commission as bad news

Beat Späth, from the biotechnology lobby EuropaBio, expressed her disappointment at this “non-cultivation” agreement. “It enables Member States to formally reject safe products which are approved at European level. […]European farmers have lost their freedom to choose,” she said.

Opponents of GMOs are also unhappy with the agreement, particularly with the fact that the European Food Safety Authority’s evaluation process for GM crops has not been modified.

José Bové, a French Green MEP, said “in the short term, this change will allow multinationals like Monsanto to challenge national bans at the WTO or, if free trade deals like TTIP are finalised, in arbitration tribunals”.

Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director said: “Environment ministers say they want to give countries the right to ban GM crop cultivation on their territory, but the text they have agreed does not give governments a legally solid right. It ties their hands by not allowing to use evidence of environmental harm to ban GM cultivation. This leaves those countries that want to say ‘no’ to GM crops exposed to legal attacks by the biotech industry”.

The European Commission proposed allowing national cultivation bans for GMOs in July 2010, in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM crop approvals which has seen few varieties approved for cultivation in more than 12 years.

In the EU only one GM crop is approved for commercial cultivation: 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%.

The proposal, which was backed by the EU’s 28 environment ministers in June 2014, gives back “full responsibility” to member states over the cultivation of GMOs on their territory.

For the first time, it formally allows EU countries to opt-out from the Europe-wide approval system.

>> Read our LinksDossier: GMO cultivation in Europe: A decade of legal battles

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