Last week, members of Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee opposed a Commission proposal to allow member states to restrict or ban EU-approved genetically modified organism (GMO) food or feed within their territory, amid fears such measures would fragment the internal market.
MEPs' recommendation to vote against the proposal was largely supported - 47 to 3 - and will now be submitted to a plenary vote later this month.
Currently, it is up to the Commission to consider advice from the European food safety authority (EFSA) and decide whether or not to allow GMO products onto the EU market.
A 2010 Eurobarometer survey indicated 58 per cent of respondents did not believe GM food was safe for future generations.
S&D group shadow rapporteur on the possibility for the member states to restrict or prohibit the use of genetically modified food and feed on their territory, Guillaume Balas, argues that, "when a majority of Europeans express mistrust in GMOs, reverting to national rules constitutes an admission of weakness in terms of our collective ambition."
"In an open market, the Commission proposing to renationalise GMO use is a return to border controls for produce; that is to say, the disuniting of member states."
"These days, European agriculture is dependent on GM proteins from third countries. Consequently, we no longer have control over the matter and are dependent on these parts of the world."
"Changing eating habits in Asia, particularly increasing meat consumption, mean that soya prices will go up significantly in the coming years. Unless we help our farmers go down a different path, they will face considerable difficulties."
"It's up to citizens to choose Europe's future food and agricultural model, a choice which admittedly is not favourable to GMOs. To deny this would be to worsen any mistrust they might have towards the EU institutions."
"Nevertheless, supporting national GMO bans would not have been an alibi to maintain the status quo, allowing the Council to stay silent while the Commission approves new GMOs and ignores the majority's wishes. Ultimately, this will lead to the revival of national bias, rather than the increased European sovereignty we all hope for."
ECR group shadow rapporteur Julie Girling also voted against national bans, explaining that, “around 72 per cent of animal feed is imported each year from third countries. They mainly come from the US, Argentina and Brazil, which have long been cultivating GM varieties of these crops. To be blunt, the EU is reliant on imports of GM feed to maintain its livestock sector."
"The Commission's proposal is dangerous for many reasons. One of these is the fact that it pits politics against the agricultural sector. Rhetoric around establishing 'GMO-free' regions and countries disingenuously ignores the reality that those same regions could not sustain livestock production without the ability to import GM feed."
The British MEP adds that, "Currently, a number of member states consistently vote against the authorisation of GM feed varieties. However, those same member states still import GM feed, because their farmers have no affordable alternatives."
She also points out that, "so-called 'opt-outs' would go against one of the fundamental freedoms upon which the EU was founded - the free movement of goods. How can we speak of a single market when different member states have different rules on what feed they may or may not import?"
Committee of the Regions (CoR) opinion rapporteur Mark Weinmeister was also against national GMO bans, arguing that, "the Commission should be allowed to issue positive decisions authorising GMO products only if there are qualified majority votes in favour both in the standing committee and in the appeal committee of the Council of ministers."
"In practice, it would be impossible to monitor a national ban in a cost-effective manner in view of the free circulation of goods in the internal market, not to mention the multiple links in the supply chains of industrial food and feed production."
"Instead, there should be a single risk-assessment system, better examination of environmental concerns during authorisation procedures and a change in the weighting of votes in the two committees referred to above."
However, Greens/EFA group shadow rapporteur Bart Staes is of a different opinion. He says, "the new mantras of the day are, 'we need GMOs to feed the world' and, 'let's base our policymaking on sound science'."
"The first mantra is pure propaganda. Small-scale farmers are the ones that feed the world, not big corporations who are on a frantic mission to patent as many food plants as they possibly can."
"The second mantra is even more misleading, because it comes directly from these same big corporations and their political allies or biotech ambassadors. Let's be very clear: the current EU risk assessment regime is portrayed as 'sound science' - an unbiased process subject to the highest scientific standards, both by the biotech industry and the Commission."
"By systematically denying access to GMO materials for independent scientists to carry out their own studies, the industry undermines its own credibility."