The European Parliament has adopted a contentious report calling for rules to be established at Community level on the coexistence of genetically modified (GM) crops with ordinary crops 'without delay', reports CORDIS.
MEPs feel that EU laws on coexistence are necessary, despite the Commission suggesting that the issue should be the responsibility of member states under the principle of 'subsidiarity'.
According to the CORDIS report, Parliament has also called for the rules to be drawn up under the codecision procedure, thereby giving MEPs a say in the final outcome.
For the authors of the report from the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development, led by Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, the goal of coexistence is to provide 'lasting freedom of choice for farmers and consumers in relation to the use or consumption of genetically modified organisms'.
Other recommendations contained within the report include the drafting of a proposal by the Commission on 'Community wide civil liability and insurance in respect of possible financial damage in connection with coexistence.' Such a proposal would make GM producers liable for any contamination of organic and conventional crops, said the report.
Opening the way for flexibility at a national level, in adopting the report on 18 December MEPs also argued that member states should be free to restrict GM cultivation in certain geographical areas if they wish
As a result, clear rules must exist to resolve 'conflicts wherever the entitlement to use GMOs conflicts with the right or obligation to renounce GMOs and may give rise to costs and risks'.
One such event arose in March this year when Upper Austria requested a total ban on cultivating genetically modified crops to protect conventional and organic crops, as well as wildlife, from potential contamination.
The Commission blocked Austria's attempt, ruling that governments that tried to ban genetically-modified crops would be in breach of EU law.
At the time Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström called the Austrian request a 'clear-cut case' when she commented: "The Treaty requirements allowing for a derogation from EU legislation are not met and, in its role of guardian of the Treaty, the Commission can only reject the Austrian request."
Ironically, the authors of the report highlight Upper Austria as an area that, having chosen to forgo the use of GMOs, is actually reaping the economic benefits from that decision.
"Only if there is a clear segregation at the start of the production chain will it be possible to keep impurities, which will be 'technically unavoidable' where GMOs are grown, reliably below the prescribed labelling threshold without placing an unreasonable burden on neighbouring farmers and downstream treatment, processing and marketing firms," say the authors.
Economic analysis shows that it is much more logical to keep seeds free of GMOs, since seed production takes place in an almost closed system anyway, they add.
"The GMO-free region of Upper Austria has become a magnet for seed firms and has attracted foreign investment because strict business rules can be complied with here. In such a situation, retaining GMO-free status may represent the most economic and effective measure for coexistence."
The findings of the report, now backed by Parliament, are not currently reflected by the Commission. A fact that guarantees the debate on co-existence has acres to go before reaching a united conclusion.