Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Commission gambit could end GMO impasse

In a potentially risky gamble to break an EU impasse over the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms which has lasted more than a decade, the European Commission will on Tuesday (13 July) propose a plan that both helps anti-GMO member states to ban them and lets those countries that favour the technology to move full-speed ahead with commercial planting.

Until March this year when the new commission gave the green light to a GM potato variety produced by German chemical and agribusiness giant Basf, sparking vociferous controversy across the bloc, no new GM crops had been approved in the EU since some Monsanto maize in 1998.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Corn. Anti-GMO groups fear the new legal measures will not stand up to a challenge (Photo: Notat)

The EU is split almost down the middle on this most divisive of agricultural topics. No side is able to mount a majority in the Council of Ministers. This makes no one happy, turning anti-GMO countries into the target of Brussels - and US and WTO - ire, and frustrating the ability of pro-GMO countries to fully develop their agricultural sectors in the way their governments wish to.

In a new twist, the commission is betting that if it extends the ability of countries to ban organisms on socio-economic grounds, and, in the longer run, to cultural and ethical grounds on top of the current contamination-only grounds, the anti-GMO states will soften their opposition, potentially a slew of new crop approvals at Brussels level, perhaps as soon as in the coming months.

The gambit is possibly the first ever example of Brussels returning back to member states a power it had earlier taken upon itself.

Even a staunchly pro-GMO state such as Spain, which believes that all of the EU should be able to produce GM products, and the arch-federalist Belgium, which is agnostic on the GMO controversy but thinks the move sets a dangerous precedent of reversing EU integration, have yet to be won over to the idea.

The biotech industry, while applauding the commission for trying to break the impasse with a creative idea and hopeful that it will open new markets for their products, says that the move is in the end "anti-science" and could make it easier to restrict GM farming even in states more open to the technology.

Antonio Villarroel, secretary-general of Antama, a Spanish biotech association said: "We have real fears that the new proposals will make it harder and harder for us to co-exist successfully with other types of farming."

Meanwhile, environmental groups and farmers who oppose GMO technology are frightened that the process will carve new inroads for GM plants and animals and say that any agreement to more authorisations at EU level would be a Faustian pact.

Beyond their desire to see an EU-wide ban on GMO cultivation, they say that the new green light for a looser interpretation of the grounds for a national ban are legally worthless and wide open to court challenges. In effect, the anti-GMO states would be signing off on new GM crops elsewhere in Europe without legally armour-plating their own bans.

In an unusual alliance, both anti-GMO Austria and the pro-GMO Netherlands back the commission's move, however.

Looking at the commission's plan in more detail, the executive will on Tuesday publish new guidelines on what is termed "co-existence" of GM and non-GM agriculture - referring to the possible contamination of non-GM crops by their lab-tweaked cousins - replacing guidance that dates back to 2003.

The EU move, which would extend these grounds for a ban to include socio-economic reasons, is technically-speaking non-legislative and so could be enacted immediately.

Alongside this, the commission will publish legislative proposals to extend the grounds to cultural or ethical reasons. Catholic Poland for example believes that the use of GM seeds encroaches on the sphere of public morality.

In return, the anti-GMO states would embrace "a more positive stance" regarding GMO authorisation at the stage of assessment health and environmental risks at the EU level.

EU imposes stiff controls to block Chinese GM rice

EU member states have slapped rigid new controls on all imports of Chinese rice products in the wake of ever-increasing detection of products 'contaminated' with unauthorised genetically modified rice.

EUobserved

Schoolkid 'climate strikers' outnumber MEPs at debate

In response to the now worldwide movement of concerned school children, the EU parliament held a debate about climate change. But those pupils attending were not allowed to speak, only to listen.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us