EU Parliament throws out proposal on national GMO bans

29 Oct 2015 | News
MEPs shoot down Commission’s proposal to leave policy on the import of genetically modified organisms in the hands of EU member states - but Commission says the bill will stay on the table

MEPs have overwhelming rejected a proposal which would have allowed member states to decide for themselves whether or not to import genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for use in food and animal feed.

The bill was not scrapped for environmental or health reasons, but rather MEPs voted 557 to 75 against on the grounds that such a law would mean erecting trade barriers within the EU's single market.

"Today's vote gave a clear signal to the European Commission,” said Giovanni La Via, the Italian centre-right MEP who chairs the environment committee. “This proposal could turn on its head what has been achieved with the single market and the customs union.”

It would also have set off alarm bells for any companies looking to invest in biotech in Europe, said Leticia Gonçalves, chairman of the agri-food council of the industry group EuropaBio.

“We welcome the European Parliament’s rejection of the Commission’s patchwork proposal allowing national bans on the use of safe, EU-approved products on the basis of non-scientific criteria,” Gonçalves said. EuropaBio had previously said the proposal, tabled in April, was, “a stop sign for innovation”.

The EU relies on imports of corn and soy-based animal feed, the vast majority of which is genetically modified, noted British centre-right MEP Julie Girling, who sits with the European Conservatives and Reformists, a political grouping which traditionally votes in favour of GMO policies.

"The Commission's proposal is dangerous as it pits politics against the agricultural sector,” Girling said. “It sidelines science and the advice of the EU's own advisory agencies.”

The proposal is unworkable, said Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes. “If a boat of 50,000 tonnes of soya arrives in the port of Antwerp, but France has decided to opt out, how will a truck be prevented from travelling to France?” he said.

So far, Wednesday’s vote has gone unheeded at the Commission. Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said despite the result, the proposed legislation would not be taken off the table and the matter will have to be discussed with ministers.

"I would like to confirm the Commission believes this proposal is the right way of addressing the challenges in relation to the decision-making process on GMOs at European Union level,” Andriukaitis said. If the Commission does not withdraw the proposal, the legislative file will return to the parliamentary committee.

Andriukaitis’ stance is not surprising given the amount of effort the Commission has put into forging a bridge position between the proponents and opponents of GMOs, who for years have been locked in rancorous dispute.

The Commission felt it had proposed the only path left open to it, to pass a law allowing those countries that want to grow and import GMOs to do so, while those that do not could ban them.

"I still hope the Commission will eventually listen to the strong voice coming from the Parliament and scrap this plan, which blasts a hole through the single market," said Girling.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has expressed concern over GM crops in the past. 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.”

The Commission said recently that 19 out of 28 states have asked to keep GMOs out of their territory.

France, Austria and Hungary are fiercely against GM. On the other side of the debate, proponents of GM crops include Spain, Europe’s largest producer of GM crops, the UK, Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

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