New GM package could pave way national ban on GM foods and imports – but not everybody is happy

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Once adopted, today's proposal will grant Member States a greater say over the use of EU- authorised GMOs in food and feed, says EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Once adopted, today's proposal will grant Member States a greater say over the use of EU- authorised GMOs in food and feed, says EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

Related tags European union Gm

A European Commission review on genetically modified (GM) products could deliver regulations that allow individual countries to ban or authorise consumption of GMOs in food or feed. But concerns about the regulation have been raised by both pro-GM and anti-GM camps.

The new package of suggested regulations on GM products is set to give more freedom for individual Member States to decide whether to allow or prohibit the cultivation of EU-authorised GM food and feed in its own territory.

According to the European Commission (EC), the new review and regulatory package – which are adopted today, 22 April 2015 - confirm the need for changes that reflect public views and allow national governments to have a greater say on the use of EU-authorised genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for animal or human consumption.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: "I am pleased to deliver on one of the important commitments taken by this Commission, reviewing the legislation on the decision-making process on GMOs. The Commission has listened to the concerns of many European citizens, reflected in the positions expressed by their national governments.”

“Once adopted, today's proposal will, fully in line with the principle of subsidiarity, grant Member States a greater say as regards the use of EU- authorised GMOs in food and feed on their respective territories."

The new proposal 'mirrors and complements' new European laws that give Member States the authority to authorise or ban the cultivation of GMOs – under Directive (EU) 2015/412. This law, which entered into force earlier this month, was brought in to force after a European Parliament vote by Member State MEPs in late 2014​ elected in favour of measures that entitle countries within the EU to pass legally binding acts restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GMO crops after they have been authorised at EU level.

The new measures delivered today could allow countries to block or allow the presence of GM products in food or feed and would impact how food and feed products are imported.

According to the proposal Member States will have to justify that their opt-out measures comply with EU law – with a European Commission press release noting that opt-outs “shall be based on legitimate reasons other than those assessed at EU level, i.e. risk to human or animal health or the environment.”​ 

The legislative proposal now set to be voted on at the European Parliament.

Mixed reaction

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said today’s EC proposal would still allow the Commission to authorise the import of GMOs, even where a majority of national governments, the European Parliament and the public oppose them.


“The Commission’s proposal is a farce because it leaves the current undemocratic system untouched,” ​commented Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg.

“It would allow the Commission to continue ignoring major opposition to GM crops, despite president Juncker’s promise to allow a majority of EU countries to halt Commission decisions on GMOs”.

She added that the decision by the Commission to propose that Member States can only opt-out on reasons other than health and the environment (which it claims are already assessed at the UE level) means that countries wishing to ban GM from food and feed face a tough challenge.

“The Commission is offering EU countries a fake right to opt-out that won’t stand up in any court,” ​said Achterberg. “EU free market rules will always trump national opt-outs for GMO imports, especially if governments are denied the possibility of justifying national measures on health and environmental grounds.”

Free-market at risk?

While Greenpeace suggest that the new rules will not work to enforce bans, the European Association of Bioindustries (EuropaBio) underlined the benefits that GM products have already brought to Europe and warned that legislation which enforces country specific ban of foods and feed that contain GM products would be a logistical nightmare and may limit the growth, competitiveness, and integrity of a European free market.

“The European Commission is sacrificing the fundamental principle of the internal market by proposing to set up a patchwork of national bans on imports of safe products”​, said Jeff Rowe, chairman of the Agri-Food Council of EuropaBio.

He warned that undermining well-established and successful trade in GM products such as cotton and soy risks real damage to jobs, growth ‘and confidence in Europe as a place to do business.’

“This proposal would limit the choice for livestock farmers and threaten their livelihoods,” ​said Rowe.

“Failing to uphold the EU-wide approval of safe products will damage jobs, growth, innovation and competitiveness.”

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