Thursday

25th Aug 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.

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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.

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