A majority of EU member states voted against approving a genetically modified (GM) maize variety for cultivation in Europe at a Council of Ministers meeting on Tuesday – but the Commission may still approve the crop under EU rules.
The DuPont Pioneer 1507 maize has been developed for herbicide and insecticide resistance, and a request for cultivation was first filed in the EU in 2001. It has since received six positive safety opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), although its opponents claim there are still gaps in safety testing, citing particular concerns about its potential impact on butterflies and moths.
Nineteen countries voted against approving the crop, (France, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia,) five were in favour (Spain, the UK, Finland, Estonia and Sweden) and four abstained (Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic and Belgium).
However, under EU rules that weight countries’ votes according to population size, the result is a stalemate, despite the rejection from two-thirds of EU member states.
No qualified majority
“The Council could not reach a qualified majority either in favour or against a Commission proposal to authorise the placing on the market for cultivation of the genetically modified maize 1507, which is resistant to certain insects (butterflies pests),” the Council said.
“…In accordance with the applicable rules it is now up to the Commission to authorise the maize 1507.”
The decision now reverts to the European Commission, but even if the Commission were to approve the crop, environmental organisations have suggested that its future is still uncertain.
Back in December, a European court annulled approval of BASF’s GM Amflora potato in the European Union, saying the Commission had not followed proper procedures. Greenpeace is among those to have cited the Amflora ruling as having a potential effect on future Commission decisions on GM crops.
“The European Court of Justice would very likely overturn an authorisation of this GM maize in a legal challenge, as it did with the latest Commission approval of the Amflora GM potato,” said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero.
DuPont Pioneer European communications manager József Máté said in an emailed statement: “We are now confident that the European Commission, based on the seven positive safety opinions published by EFSA, will adopt the decision for approval again as required under EU Law. 1507 maize meets all EU regulatory requirements and should be approved for cultivation without further delay.
“The European Union has a legal obligation to itself, to its farmers and scientists and to its trade partners to follow the revised EU biotech legislation and support the approval of safe agricultural biotechnology products in the European Union.
“Once 1507 cultivation approval is granted, we will collaborate with EU Member States that wish to commercialize the product and where severe target insect pest pressure is an issue. A comprehensive environmental monitoring plan comprising of case-specific monitoring and general surveillance will also be implemented in Member States where 1507 maize will be commercially cultivated.”
President of the Council of Ministers, Greek deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos, pledged to hold a debate on GMOs in the environment council under the Hellenic presidency.