Little agreement on commission GMO proposal

27.09.10 @ 20:03

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - European Union member states have concluded their first debate on a recent European Commission proposal to allow differentiated GMO cultivation, with most capitals raising serious objections.

  • Many EU citizens remain opposed to GMO products, also known as 'Frankenfoods' (Photo: European Commission)

Belgian minister for agriculture Sabine Laruelle, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, acknowledged the considerable opposition after she met with EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday (27 September).

"I don't think we can expect a compromise over the next couple of months," she told journalists at a new conference. "A great deal more will have to be done."

Germany, France and several other member states are concerned that the commission's proposal could result in a fragmentation of the EU's internal market, as well as run into opposition from the World Trade Organisation.

Italy and pro-GMO Spain also reportedly raised concerns over the proposal, citing their opposition to the renationalising of an EU common policy, while anti-GMO Austria, Hungary and Greece gave it support.

Announced in July, the commission plan says environmental and health considerations on whether to approve the cultivation of a certain GMO-crop should remain at EU level, but adds that member states should subsequently be allowed to ban an EU-authorised product at national level using other criteria.

These could be socio-economic in nature, or following a referendum, although details remain unclear. An ad-hoc group composed of member state officials has been set up to study the issue.

Pro-GMO Netherlands is among the list of EU countries supporting the commission's blueprint, seeing it as a means to unblock years of deadlock in the area.

"Once GMO-crops have been assessed as safe for people, animals, and the environment, we should give our farmers a real choice and a chance to compete globally," said Dutch minister of agriculture Gerda Verburg on Monday.

GMO products remain unpopular with many EU citizens however, frequently being referred to as 'Frankenstein Foods'.

A new procedure under the EU's Lisbon Treaty allows European citizens to request Brussels to look into a particular area once one million signatures have been collected on a petition, with a call for a GMO ban nearing this figure.

European commissioner for consumer affairs John Dalli defended the proposal on Monday, saying it would allow differing levels of GMO cultivation across the bloc but would not hamper trade in GMO products.

"It does not undermine the internal market and is not in contradiction with WTO rules. On the contrary, legal experts say it is the current status which is problematic with the WTO," he said.

Many environmental NGOs are also unhappy with the proposal however, saying member states that chose to implement a ban at national level under the proposal would be vulnerable to legal challenges.

"EU countries shouldn't be duped into accepting the proposal as it stands and taking the pressure off the commission to improve crop safety and prevent GM contamination," said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero.