26th Oct 2016

Farm ministers to discuss proposals to end GMO impasse

  • EU citizens remain wary of GMOs (Photo: Xavier de Almeida)

EU farm ministers are gathering in Brussels today (27 September) to discuss proposals by the European Commission to devolve decision-making on whether to allow genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to national governments.

Announced by Brussels in July, the idea has attracted controversy for being the first time that the commission is overtly handing back a power to member states.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It would allow countries such as France to maintain their ban on GMOs while at the same time permitting Spain and others to go ahead with planting genetically modified crops.

Countries could ban organisms on socio-economic grounds, and cultural and ethical grounds on top of the current contamination-only grounds.

The commission made the move following years of stalemate between national governments neither pro- or anti-GMO states have been able to force an outright decision in favour or against a particular GMO when the issue comes up in the council of ministers.

Under EU rules, this means that the ultimate decision falls back to the commission, which usually gives the go ahead. The drawn out process, made more controversial by the fact that large parts of the EU population remain opposed to the idea of GMOs, has exasperated the Union's major trading powers, including the US, and put it in the WTO's sights.

The GMO issue flares up every time the EU makes its default decision and recently came to the fore again after it emerged Germany's BASF mistakenly sowed seed from an unauthorised potato in Sweden.

The commission is hoping that the solution will mean that countries both in favour of and against GMOs can rub along together and that the WTO will be appeased so long as authorised GM products may circulate without a problem.

However, the proposal has raised concerns about the implications for the EU's single market, something mentioned by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

"If we continue like this, the single market has come to an end," she said before the summer while French farm minister Bruno Le Maire earlier this month said: "The Commission must not hand over responsibility for this essential question for European agriculture."

Even Spain, a pro-GMO country, has raised concerns. "Moving to authorizations by each country could take us to the beginning of re-nationalization, something we have never supported in Spain," farm minister Elena Espinosa said recently.

Instead some countries want to push the commission for clear rules on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops.

The commission has reacted defensively to the criticism.

"We are putting into effect the means through which, in a much easier and more effective way, France can achieve what it tried to with its safeguard measures, so this is what I cannot sometimes comprehend," Europe's health and consumer chief John Dalli told Reuters recently.

Just two GM crops have been authorised for cultivation in Europe over the last 12 years but there has been an increase in GM imports.

EU countries agree data roaming charges

Mobile operators will be able to charge each other for the use of data by their customers in Europe and to apply a surcharge when too many people use their network.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  2. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  3. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  4. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  5. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  6. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  7. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  8. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  9. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  10. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  11. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  12. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16