EU okays GM crop ban


BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive yesterday adopted proposals to allow member states to ban the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, despite strong opposition from industry and some EU governments.
The European Commission’s rare bid to hand EU power on cultivation decisions back to member states is designed to unblock a paralysis in the bloc’s GM approvals system, which has seen just two GM crops approved for growing in 12 years.
“The concrete measures adopted today will allow member states the freedom to decide on GMO cultivation,” EU Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli said in a statement.
The proposals confirmed a twin-track approach set out in drafts seen by Reuters in June, with an amendment to EU rules on GM cultivation accompanied by non-binding guidelines designed to introduce the change immediately.
If approved by EU governments and lawmakers, the proposals could see a rise in GM crop plantings in countries already growing them such as Spain and the Czech Republic, while allowing hostile countries including Italy and Austria to ban them entirely.
“I don’t expect countries to change their voting patterns just because now we have put in these considerations,” Maltese commissioner John Dalli told a news conference.
Ministers from several EU countries including France and Spain have already criticised the proposals for seeking to dismantle the 27-nation bloc’s common policy on GM crops.
“We hope that decisions will continue to be taken at community level. We don’t support the renationalisation of (GM) decisions,” French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
Biotech companies have warned that the proposals will create legal uncertainty and disrupt the EU’s single market for agricultural goods, resulting in a slew of internal market disputes and legal challenges.
But after a decade of trying to force countries to abide by the bloc’s rules on GM crops and defending them in international trade disputes, the Commission now seems intent on letting member states take responsibility for their own policies.
Next steps
The non-binding guidelines on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops allow governments to adopt technical measures that would effectively rule out GM cultivation from whole regions in their territories.
As the guidelines are non-binding they are automatically adopted by the Commission without the opportunity for governments to block them.
But the legislative amendment designed to provide a more solid legal basis for the rule change must first be approved by governments and the European Parliament.
Dalli will present the proposals to EU lawmakers in the parliament’s environment committee later yesterday.
A key question will be whether the parliament’s debate can be limited to the proposed change, as the Commission hopes, or whether lawmakers will attempt to open the debate further and revise other elements of the bloc’s GM crop legislation.
He is expected to present the plans to EU governments on October 14 at a meeting of the bloc’s environment ministers, who are due to hold a first detailed discussion on the proposals on December 14.
– Reuters