15 member states opt out of GMO culture

Bio-fortified maize is seen as a solution to malnutrition in the developing world. [CIAT/Flickr]

Fifteen of the 28 EU member states are seeking to keep genetically-modified organisms out of all or part of their territory, as the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GMO crops nears, the bloc’s executive arm said yesterday (1 October).

The growing list of members which, in a blow to the biotech industry, want a total ban on GMO cultivation in their fields, now includes EU heavyweights Germany and France.

Britain is also seeking a ban for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leaving only England to willingly allow GM crop cultivation.

Also on the total opt-out list are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland, an EU Commission spokesman told AFP.

Belgium has opted to keep the French-speaking Wallonia region GMO-free.

Members states have until 3 October to opt-out of the new EU-wide legislation on genetically modified crops.

>>Read: Germany initiates move to ban GMO crops

Those national demands must be put to the big agricultural multinationals, including the likes of Monsanto and Dow, in order to prevent the cultivation of GMOs already authorised by the EU, or in the process of authorisation.

The EU had already cleared over 70 genetically modified products including human food, animal feed and cut flowers.

Agricultural companies have the right to oppose calls for these GMO products to be banned from individual member states.

If they do so, then member states can still invoke “substantial grounds”, for example specific environmental or agricultural issues, for a ban.

The legislation crucially allows member states to ban GMOs on environmental policy grounds, even if the crop has already been cleared on health and safety grounds at EU level, following a manufacturer’s request.

Some member states fear GM foods pose a potential threat to public health, and could affect the reputation and integrity of their local agricultural produce.

For others, GMOs represent an essential technology that cannot be ignored, and are key to feed a growing world population.

>>Read: GMOs take root as a controversial answer to hunger in Africa

With neither side able to prevail since the new legislation was first mooted in 2010, EU leaders thrashed out a compromise last year to hand the final decision back to national governments.

Supporters of GM products, and the manufacturers, had argued that if the EU found no health reason to ban them, then individual member states should have no reason to prevent their cultivation.

Some critics say the compromise looks good at the headline level, but in practice, will allow GM foods in through the back door, arguing that a general ban would be much more effective than a patchwork of GMO regimes.

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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