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21st Apr 2019

New deal: EU countries can ban GMOs without asking industry

EU states will find it easier to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops on their territories, under a new EU agreement.

If a company wants to sell GM crop to farmers in a country where the national government wants to ban that crop, that government will not have to ask the company first to refrain from selling there, as was originally proposed.

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  • Member states will receive the right to ban GM crops even if they have been approved at EU level. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament and the European Council had come up with different versions of the draft legislation that will give member states the right to ban GM crops even if the EU has already approved them.

But representatives of the EU bodies reached a provisional agreement on Wednesday (3 December) evening, European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis for health and food safety announced on Thursday.

Details of the deal have not yet been published, but a document seen by EUobserver with notes on the final meeting indicates the European Parliament was granted several points on its wish list.

If a company wants to sell a genetically modified crop to farmers in the EU, it has to have authorisation from the European Commission.

The Council had proposed that member states can only file applications to ban GM crops up to two years after the day the authorisation is provided.

In the compromise agreement, this has been scrapped, meaning that a member state will have the full 10 years that the cultivation permit is valid.

EU countries will also be able to ban “groups of GMOs defined by crop or trait”, as parliament wanted, so that they do not have to go through the whole process multiple times. However, the deal does not allow countries to ban GMOs altogether, which parliament also wanted.

In a press release, parliament group the Greens said the compromise “strengthens the basis on which member states can opt-out of GMO authorisations”.

The press release notes that although the deal gives countries “some flexibility to use environmental policy grounds as a justification, in addition to the criteria assessed by the European Food Safety Authority, it is not clear if this will provide true legal certainty”.

Greenpeace wrote in a statement that the proposed text “does not give governments a legally solid right” to ban GM crop cultivation.

According to the leaked notes, the drafters expect the new legislation to improve the authorisation process, which has been criticized as ineffective.

Although a handful of applications have been given favourable assessments by EFSA, they are still pending.

“Given the strong opposition of most of the Member States, the commission is hesitating to put it to the vote”, the relevant parliament rapporteur wrote to her colleagues.

If member states are given the option to ban a GM crop for their country, they are perhaps less inclined to hold up the whole process.

There is currently only one GM crop being commercially cultivated in the European Union, a maize called MON 810.

However, the US company which produces MON 810 does not plan to expand its GM crops in the EU.

In 2013, Monsanto decided to stop trying to get GM crops approved in Europe.

“We don't feel we get full support in Europe to really commercialize GM”, Leticia Goncalves told EUobserver.

Goncalves is Monsanto's new regional president for Europe and the Middle East. She spoke to a handful of media on Thursday (4 December) and presented the company's new communication strategy.

“Especially in Europe … Monsanto is oftentimes associated with GMO. What we sell in Europe today is 99.5 procent conventional [seeds]. So if you think about it, we are not a GMO company.”

Goncalves sees a right of individual member states to ban GM crops despite a positive EFSA assessment as “a step backwards”.

But the company does not plan “in the short term” to apply for any new authorisations of GM crops.

“To be honest, we have a very healthy business today in terms of growth expectations that we can have from our conventional business”, she said.

The agreement still has to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council.

Andriukaitis expects them to do that “in the coming weeks”, so that member states will have their possibility to ban “from spring 2015”.

Commission president Juncker has asked Andriukaitis to have reviewed the authorisation process by 30 April 2015.

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