Environment ministers discussed the draft law on Monday, which was proposed after a record 19 member states opposed approving cultivation of a GM maize variety last month. Under EU rules that weight countries’ votes according to population size, the vote was a stalemate, meaning that the European Commission would have to approve the maize by default.
Currently, eight countries have effectively banned cultivation of GM crops in Europe – Poland, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria – but they have only been able to do so if they can prove that a crop could be harmful (Poland, for example, has said that GM maize pollen might find its way into honey), or by invoking a so-called ‘safeguard clause’ spelling out why a particular crop might pose a risk to health or the environment. However, this safeguard clause has not been backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Yesterday’s council meeting confirmed that environment ministers were willing to reopen discussions on proposals to allow member states to restrict cultivation of GM crops on their territories on grounds other than health and environmental risks.
Referring to the proposal, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “It would expose countries that want to ban GM crops to legal challenges and force them to do deals with biotech lobbyists behind closed doors. A legally solid GM ban should be based on the environmental and health dangers linked to GM crops. Anything less would not stand up to legal scrutiny.”
This assertion is based on a previous draft law, proposed in 2010, which was rejected due to ‘legal flaws’ related to allowing member states to restrict cultivation for reasons other than health or environment.
Greenpeace also objected to the inclusion in this latest proposal of a clause to allow a biotech company to “adjust the geographical scope of its notification,” to exclude countries wishing to ban a crop from cultivation.
“Therefore, EU countries would be required to strike deals with biotech companies behind closed doors, giving corporate lobbyists a formalised role in policy-making,” Greenpeace said.
The Greek presidency has said it will examine the proposal in a first working party meeting on March 13.