EU one step closer to law on national GMO crop bans

GMOs protest in the European Parliament

Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday (11 November) backed a plan to allow nations to ban genetically modified crops on their soil, even if they are given approval to be grown in the European Union, raising the chance their use will remain limited on the continent.

Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion, with opposition in many countries including France and Germany, while Britain favours them.

A previous compromise endorsed this year by EU ministers would have required negotiations with the relevant companies, if a nation wanted to ban a GM crop in the event it had been approved for EU-wide use.

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

The plan voted through the Parliament’s environment committee on Tuesday would leave out that stage and allows member states to ban GM crops on environmental grounds.

It drew praise from GM opponents.

“MEPs have today voted to strengthen the hand of member states or regions wanting to opt-out of EU authorisations of GMOs,” said Bart Staes, a spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament. “No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so.”

“Today’s vote would give European countries a legally solid right to ban GM cultivation in their territory, making it difficult for the biotech industry to challenge such bans in court,” Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, said.

Left-leaning politicians also welcomed Tuesday’s vote, which kicks off formal negotiations on a legal text, saying it strengthened the grounds for opting out of any GM cultivation.

Conservatives were opposed.

“The parliament’s position on GM cultivation risks inflicting untold damage to robust, science-based policymaking in Europe. We strongly oppose these proposals and voted against them today. We will continue to oppose them,” Julie Girling, environment spokeswoman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said.

The executive European Commission said in a statement it was confident the law could be in place in 2015, once it had received final endorsement from the European Parliament and member states.

GM cultivation has provoked opposition in Europe for years. An earlier attempt to agree a compromise on GM cultivation failed in 2012, when EU ministers were unable to agree.

So far, EU authorities have approved only two GM crops for commercial cultivation, and one was later blocked by a court.

That leaves Monsanto’s GM maize MON810 as the only GM crop grown in Europe, where it has been cultivated in Spain and Portugal for a decade.

Food & Water Europe, a nonprofit consumer group, hailed the Parliament's vote, saying the discussion on GMO opt-outs had been fraught because they allowed seed companies to have a say.

"The Parliament has rightly rejected the totally unacceptable involvement of biotech companies in national GM policy development," said Eve Mitchell, EU Food Policy Advisor at Food & Water Europe. Mitchell said the Council's proposals were "legally flawed" because they were they were not certain to provide GMO bans with "the sound footing needed to survive any challenge from the biotech industry or international trade partners."

“Pro-GM governments like the UK must accept that trying to force GM crops onto an unwilling public has not worked and will not work. Citizens want protection from GM contamination, the right to make decisions without interference from vested interests and the simple right to decide what they will eat and what they reject. Talk about democracy is nice, but this is what it looks like on the ground. Unresponsive Ministers and unelected Commissioners can have a deal on GM crops if they want one, but the Parliament sets the rules.”

"The ball is now firmly in the Council and Commission courts — will they listen to the democratic representatives of EU citizens, or will they listen to biotech lobbyists?”

After a decade of legal battles, the European Union reached an agreement in June 2014, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory.

The new president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has backed the new comprehensive legal framework which will give EU member states a legal basis they have been wanting for years.

There are two key rules which govern GMOs in the EU (link to overview): a directive  used for the authorisation of GMO products in EU and regulation used on food and feed made from GMO products that have been authorised.

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

  • 2014-2015: European Parliament and Council to continue discussions in second reading to reach agreement on a common text
  • 2015: Final adoption expected

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