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29th Mar 2020

MEPs want wider scope for national GMO bans

Members of the European Parliament's environment committee have said national governments should be allowed to ban GMO cultivation on environmental grounds.

The decision by MEPs on Tuesday (12 April), goes beyond a proposal put forward by the European Commission last July to partially renationalise decisions over GMO cultivation, after years of deadlock in the area.

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  • French protesters signal their dislike for GM crops (Photo: EUobserver)

Under the commission plan, initial GMO crop approval would remain at the European level, decided along environmental and human health lines, after which member states could then opt to ban a particular crop, based on a different set of criteria.

The commission recently clarified that these additional criteria could include 'public morals', 'public order' and 'cultural policy' reasons, but MEPs argue that governments should also be empowered to cite environmental concerns.

French Liberal MEP Corinne Lepage said parliament had sent a "clear signal" to the other EU institutions after environment committee members backed her report by 34 votes in favour, 10 against and 16 abstentions on Tuesday.

"The EU authorisation system should be maintained," said Lepage. "But it should be acknowledged that some agricultural and environmental impacts, as well as socio-economic impacts linked to contamination, can be cited by member states to justify a ban or restriction on GMO cultivation."

A parliamentary official said the legislature's largest political group, the centre-right EPP, largely abstained during Tuesday's committee vote, but expected MEPs sitting in plenary this June to accept the "main lines" of Lepage's report.

Member states have yet to reach a final position on the commission's proposals, with France and Germany concerned that it could result in the fragmentation of the EU's internal market, as well as run into trouble with the World Trade Organisation.

Others such as anti-GMO Austria and the pro-GMO Netherlands support the plans, on the grounds they will then have greater freedom to pursue their divergent positions on the GMO debate.

But NGOs such as Greenpeace are concerned that national bans will not stand up to legal challenges under the commission proposals. The environmental group welcomed the decision by MEPs on Tuesday.

"Environmental impacts are a major danger of genetically modified crops and including these into law will help governments ban them from Europe's fields," said Greenpeace agriculture policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer.

"Without these grounds, national bans would be in danger of being overturned by biotech companies in court."

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