The agreement, reached by the Parliament and Council delegations on Wednesday night, would allow member states to cite environmental policy objectives as a reason for banning GM crops in their territory. These would relate to environmental impacts other than risks to health and environment assessed during the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific risk assessment.
The rules could become law in spring 2015 if the full Parliament and member states back them in a vote in January.
Governments with a pro-GM stance, like the UK and Spain, hope the new rules will speed authorisation of new crops, while others, including Germany, France and Austria, will be able to ban GM crop cultivation without being challenged in court.
The agreement […] will ensure more flexibility for member states who wish to restrict the cultivation of the GMOs in their country. It will, moreover, signpost a debate which is far from over between pro- and anti-GMO positions,” said Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, who has been steering the legislation through parliament.
“As to what comes next, I place my trust in Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's formal pledge to strengthen the democratic process on GMOs in Europe and ensure that research is genuinely independent.”
National bans could also include groups of GMOs designated by crop or trait.
The text would “give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment,” European Commissioner in charge of health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said in a statement.
However, neither biotech nor environmental groups welcomed the agreement.
“This is a non-cultivation agreement,” saidBeat Späth, director for agricultural biotechnology at industry association EuropaBio. “It enables Member States to formally reject safe products which are approved at European level. Rejecting modern technologies on non-scientific grounds sets a dangerous precedent for the internal market and sends a negative signal for innovative industries worldwide considering whether or not to invest and operate in Europe.”
Greenpeace EU, which praised the environment committee’s draft version of the bill last month, said the agreed text was not legally strong enough.
Its agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “The text…ties their hands by not allowing to use evidence of environmental harm to ban GM cultivation. This leaves those countries that want to say ‘no’ to GM crops exposed to legal attacks by the biotech industry.”
Current rules allow crops to be grown anywhere in Europe following EU approval, although only one GM crop, Monsanto maize variety MON810, is grown commercially in the EU.