MEPs have voted to allow national bans on genetically modified (GM) food crops even if the EU has already approved them for cultivation.
Under current Union rules, GM crops can be cultivated after receiving the go-ahead by the European Food and Safety Authority. However, several countries have been pressing for less EU power in this area, looking for firmer national rights to ban their cultivation.
A compromise proposal brokered by the European Commission in June between pro-and anti-GM member states which would have prevented national GM bans on grounds of environmental or health concerns was amended by the Parliament’s Environment committee (ENVI). The only political grouping to vote against the amendments was the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), whose largest member is the UK Conservative Party.
MEPs also disputed the obligation to inform companies marketing GM crop plants before a ban is imposed and, whereas the original proposal suggested a maximum two-year ban on crops, the Parliament voted for no time limit.
ENVI members approved the amendments with 53 votes in favour and 11 against.
Frédérique Ries, a Belgian Liberal MEP who tabled the amendments, said the measures, “will secure flexibility for member states to restrict, ban (or not) the cultivation of GM [crops].”
The environment spokeswoman for the ECR, British MEP Julie Girling, which voted against the measures, said, "The Parliament's position on GM cultivation risks inflicting untold damage to robust, science-based policy-making in Europe. We strongly oppose these proposals and voted against them today. We will continue to oppose them."
The opt-out idea in the June compromise, rather than the automatic right to ban, was a fairer way of obtaining a quick, simple and legally certain solution to the approvals issue, Girling said. The likely amendments would make it, “difficult, if not impossible, to agree,” a way forward from the current impasse.
Anti-GM campaigners welcomed the Parliament’s position, with Gilles Pargneaux, a French socialist MEP, who voted in favour of the committee’s amendments, saying, “This proposal brings more legal certainty to member states willing to limit or ban GMO cultivation in their territory. In future, they will be able to invoke new grounds: environmental policy, socioeconomic reasons, or the need to avoid GMOs in other agricultural products.”
Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director said, “Thumbs up to the new Parliament for wanting to secure a GM-free agriculture and environment for Europeans.” Parliamentarians have radically improved the text adopted by the Council, which was heavily influenced by the UK government pro-GM stance, Contiero claimed.
“The vote will 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,” he added.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has expressed concern over GM crops and appears to be less in favour than his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso.
In a previous statement on the subject, he said, “It is simply not right that under the current rules, the Commission is legally forced to authorise new organisms for import and processing even though a clear majority of member states is against.”
Three-way negotiations between the Parliament, represented by Ries, the Commission and the Council have begun.
The Council will be led by Italy as current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, and its influence on the outcome, as an anti-GM country, may be telling.
Further negotiations will take place on 24 November, 3 December and 15 December. A final vote, this time taken by all MEPs in a plenary session, is expected in January.