21st Mar 2018

More than half of EU countries ask for GMO opt-out

  • Maize field. More than half of EU member states want to be able to ban growth of genetically modified maize on (part of) their territory. (Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT))

More than half of the European Union's member states have requested to be allowed to ban genetically modified crops on their territory, including Germany and France.

According to the latest count by the European Commission on Thursday (1 October), 15 of the EU's 28 member states have filed for an opt-out, ahead of a Saturday (3 October) deadline, a spokesperson told AFP.

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The countries are using new EU rules that came into force last April, which allows them to ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on their soil, even if that GMO has the required EU-wide stamp of approval.

Although the European Commission insists that only GMOs branded as safe by its European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are allowed in the EU, the issue is controversial and divisive.

Technically, the opt-out countries are asking biotechnology companies to exclude their territories from sales of the GMO crops. If these companies refuse to do so, they may ban the GMOs.

Currently, only one GMO is allowed to be cultivated in the EU, which is MON810 maize. But many countries also requested the Commission to be opted-out from other genetically modified maize types which are still under review by the EFSA.

The head of biotechnology lobby group Europabio told the Guardian the new legislation "sends a negative signal for all innovative industries considering investing in Europe".

"We deeply regret that some EU countries have decided to make use of the new licensed ban on the cultivation of safe and approved GM crops on their territory", said Europabio head Beat Spath.

Greenpeace said in a statement that with their bans, the national governments "are rejecting the Commission's drive for GM crop approvals".

"They don't trust EU safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food", the environmental activist group's Franziska Achterberg said. It called for a reform of the EU approval system.

The countries that requested for an opt-out are: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, France Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland.

The United Kingdom requested for a partial opt-out, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while Belgium asked for a ban for Wallonia.

Cultivation vs. imports

The opt-outs only account for growing GM crops in European countries, not for importing GMO products.

Following the adoption of the cultivation opt-out, the Commission proposed to also allow member states to ban the use of GMOs that are imported. This plan, however, has been met with fierce resistance, because many doubt it will work in practice in border-free Europe.

The European Parliament's environmental committee is expected to vote on the proposal later this month. The draft text asks the Commission to withdraw the entire plan.

GMO cultivation in Europe is rare compared to North and South America. MON810 is the only crop grown commercially in Europe, mostly in Spain.

However, Europe does import substantial amounts of animal food that includes genetically modified ingredients.

EU allows countries to ban GMOs

New rules allow European countries to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops on their territories, although critics fear they are a "Trojan horse" which will lead to an increase of GMOs in Europe.

Agriculture MEPs call for rejection of GMO plan

A majority in the agriculture committee voted “to propose rejection of the Commission proposal” that would give member states the power to ban the use of genetically modified food.

EU agriculture ministers pummel GMO opt-out plan

The EU commission wants to give countries the power to ban GMOs. “It's not useful, it's impracticable, and it's likely to bring a large majority against it”, was one reaction.

MEPs reject Commission plan on GMO opt-outs

Food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis failed to convince the European Parliament. 579 of 751 MEPs voted to ask the Commission to withdraw the legislative proposal, which it refused to do.

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