Following the meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, health commissioner Tonio Borg said, "I am delighted to announce that the environment council has just broken the deadlock on the GMO cultivation proposal and has reached a political agreement that moves towards a new legal basis giving member states the choice to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory.
"Thursday's political agreement meets member states' consistent calls since 2009 to have more flexibility and legal certainty for national decisions on cultivation on their territory or part of their territory," continued the Maltese official.
He explained that under the new agreement, a two-step procedure has been established to "restrict or ban the cultivation of authorised GMOs".
"It offers extended and legally sound possibilities for member states to better take into account their national context when deciding on GMO cultivation.
"Four years after the adoption of the commission proposal, we are today in a position to adopt a political agreement on a new draft GMO cultivation legislation" - Tonio Borg
"Currently, member states can only use safeguard clauses to ban cultivation based on risk," he noted.
"The final say on whether to cultivate a GMO still stays with the member state, who retain the right to opt-out regardless of the applicants' views."
In addition, he said, "The agreement also secures a member state's legitimate right to adjust their decision to restrict or ban cultivation during the 10-year GM authorisation period, if new objective circumstances arise."
"Four years after the adoption of the commission proposal, we are today in a position to adopt a political agreement on a new draft GMO cultivation legislation.
"This agreement is critical to pave the way for a constructive second reading in the new parliament, the commission will continue to offer its active support so that this new tool can hopefully be used from 2015."
"I extend my thanks to the Greek presidency for finding common ground amongst the different views and concerns. The outcome is a balanced compromise text," concluded Borg.
However, Greens deputy Bart Staes was critical of the decision, saying, "The compromise on revising the EU process for GMO authorisations, brokered by the Greek presidency and approved by environment ministers today, is a Trojan horse.
"It risks finally opening the door to genetically modified organisms across Europe, in spite of mass public opposition," he argued, adding, "The Greens will use all means at our disposal to prevent this wrongheaded proposal from entering into force."
"The partial renationalisation of competences on GM cultivation, proposed by the commission and endorsed by EU environment ministers today in a slightly modified form, is a totally flawed approach," complained the Belgian MEP.
"The compromise on revising the EU process for GMO authorisations, brokered by the Greek presidency and approved by environment ministers today, is a Trojan horse" - Bart Staes
"It would enable the commission to force through swifter and easier EU-level GMO authorisations by allowing member states or regions to opt out. However, there are major legal uncertainties," he warned.
"There are clear concerns that the opt-outs would not be legally sound and would be subject to legal challenges, leaving member states or regions isolated to defend their stance.
"There is also the clear and present danger of cross-contamination of crops, with the myriad of issues this poses," criticised Staes
He said that there is a need to reform the GMO process in the EU, but he stressed that "the answer of this cannot be to make authorisations easier".
"Any new approval procedure should not be a tool for the commission and biotech corporations to bully EU member states into accepting authorisations for GM crops for which legitimate concerns clearly exist.
"The EU should instead respect the precautionary principle and take account of the consistent and legitimate opposition to this controversial technology.
"At a time when American consumers and farmers are waking up to the negative consequences of biotech firms like Monsanto, Europe should not abandon the more sensible approach it has championed for decades," he urged.
"Environment ministers want to give member states the right to ban GMO cultivation on their land, but the text they agreed today does not deliver on what it promises" - Marco Contiero
Environmental NGOs were also less then pleased about the decision, with Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero saying, "Environment ministers want to give member states the right to ban GMO cultivation on their land, but the text they agreed today does not deliver on what it promises.
"It would still leave those countries that want to say 'no' to GMOs exposed to legal attacks of the biotech industry," he added.
Elsewhere, Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "It is unacceptable that companies like Monsanto will be given the first say in any decision to ban their products.
"Governments must be able to ban unwanted and risky GM crops without needing the permission of the companies who profit from them."
"This proposal is a poisoned chalice that fails to give member states solid legal grounds to ban genetically modified crops" - Mute Schimpf
"For more than 15 years national governments have fought against new GM crops and strongly defended their rights to ban them," she argued.
"This proposal is a poisoned chalice that fails to give member states solid legal grounds to ban genetically modified crops.
"If this law is passed, more GM crops could be allowed in Europe, dramatically increasing the risk of contamination of our food and farming," she warned.