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23rd Nov 2019

EU allows countries to ban GMOs

The European Parliament on Tuesday (13 January) decided to give member countries the power to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops on their territories, even if such a crop has been approved at an EU level.

However, critics fear the legal basis of the amended rules is not “watertight”, and that one effect of the power to ban will actually be an increase in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe.

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The change to the existing rules on GMOs was adopted in Strasbourg with a 480 vote majority; 159 MEPs voted against, and 58 abstained.

Opposition to GMOs is more widespread in Europe than in the US or Asia, with only one genetically altered crop currently being commercially cultivated on European soil – mainly in Spain – a maize called MON 810.

Sellers of GM crops like the European company Syngenta or its US competitor Monsanto have to go through an authorisation process before they can sell a GM crop to European farmers.

As opinions on the benefits of GMOs vary greatly on the European continent, the authorisation process has become deadlocked.

The authors of the legal text that was put to the vote in parliament on Tuesday, expect that giving member states the possibility to ban GMOs “is likely to improve the process for authorisations of GMOs”.

For some left-wing MEPs, this is exactly why they have voted against the bill.

“It is a real Trojan horse, which is meant to break the resistance of the member states”, said Green Belgian MEP Bart Staes during the plenary debate on Tuesday, ahead of the vote.

Far-left Galician MEP Lidia Senra said she had little faith in the bill's ability to prevent GM crops that have been approved for one member state, but banned in another, from crossing the border.

“How can you control and prevent contamination via the wind, for example? ... We would have liked a directive that categorically bans GMs”, she said.

The amendment had a long history, being proposed by the European commission back in 2010.

Member state environment ministers reached agreement only in June 2014, but differed on substantial points with the European Parliament. Informal negotiations on a compromise text concluded in December 2014.

MEPs that defended the legislation – mostly from the two largest political groups, the centre-right conservatives and the centre-left socialists – acknowledged that the compromise text did not include all the changes a majority of the European Parliament wanted.

Italian MEP Giovanni La Via of the parliament's conservative group, called it “the only possible agreement”.

“Of course not everyone will go away entirely happy … This was the only [text] which was achievable”, said La Via, who chairs the parliament's environment and food safety committee.

"The legal text is a major step forward to subsidiarity and self-determination", said La Via's fellow group member, Austrian MEP Elisabeth Köstinger.

European health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, present at the debate in Strasbourg, said the text provided "legally sound tools" for member states to ban GM crops - although some MEPs called this into question.

There are "legal loopholes for biotech companies to take countries to court," said far left Irish MEP Lynn Boylan.

The new rules will come into force in the spring of this year.

MEPs allow national bans on GM crops

MEPs say member states should have the right to ban genetically modified crops from their territory even if the EU has already approved their cultivation.

GMO maize vote highlights 'absurd' EU rules

The EU commission is set to authorise the cultivation of a genetically modified maize crop, despite opposition from 19 countries: Critics say it showcases "absurd" EU voting rules.

EU to give countries greater powers on GM food

The European Commission wants to give individual member states the power to ban food products made from genetically modified organisms, even if those GM foods have been given an EU-wide stamp of approval.

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