Parliament grants member states more rights against GMOs

Largest parliamentary groups pleased with result but Greens and GMO lobbies critical.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

13 Jan 2015

Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour - 480 for, 159 against - of plans to allow member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on their territory, even if they have been authorised at EU level.

With this new legislation, countries will be able to put a stop to the cultivation of GMOs on environmental, agricultural and socioeconomic grounds.

European socialists supported the deal, with S&D environment, food safety and public health spokesperson Matthias Groote promising, "member states and consumers can now feel safer about GMOs".

Rapporteur Frédérique Ries was pleased with the result, saying the proposal "will give more freedom, more flexibility to member states as well as greater legal certainty".

She added that "anyone who voted against this agreement voted for the status quo, which is simply not credible".

This could be interpreted as a criticism of parliament's Greens/EFA group, which has been vocal about its discontent with the outcome of the vote.

The group's food safety spokesperson, Bart Staes, complained that the new rules will "renationalise decisions about GMO cultivation instead of reforming the risk assessment process for GMOs, which is urgently needed".

"Anyone who voted against this agreement voted for the status quo, which is simply not credible" - Frédérique Ries

The argument is that because member states will be now be able to opt out of the cultivation of GMOs on their territory, the authorisation process will be watered down. Additionally, the commission can still oppose a country's decision to opt out if it believes its reasons for doing so are not sufficient.

In addition, the legislative text does not contain any provisions against the contamination of traditional crops by GMOs - it is not clear how to control or prevent the process.

Calling it a "false solution", Staes warned that "this new scheme will ease the way for GMOs in Europe, while failing to respond to the need to address the flawed EU procedure for authorising GMOs".

Currently, it is up to the council to decide whether or not to allow the cultivation of genetically modified crops. However, if it is unable to reach a conclusion, it delegates to the commission, which bases its decision on recommendations from the European food safety authority (EFSA).

Staes is extremely critical of the procedure, saying, "we cannot persist with the current situation by which authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states".

Representing the Scottish national party, Alyn Smith said, "this is a dirty deal, designed to try and impose a technology which most European citizens don't want".

"This new scheme will ease the way for GMOs in Europe, while failing to respond to the need to address the flawed EU procedure for authorising GMOs" - Bart Staes

Fellow party member Ian Hudghton added, "we also needed to see far tougher rules on labelling of GM products".

Parliament's GUE/NGL group also voted against the proposal, with shadow rapporteur Lynn Boylan explaining, "opting out of GM cultivation needs to be absolutely legally watertight - unfortunately in the legislation before us this is far from being the case".

She also raised concerns about companies being able to challenge member states' decisions to ban GMOs at the European court of justice, saying, "the concept of a private company being placed on the same footing as a sovereign country is deeply undemocratic and a worrying precedent".

Despite EPP group negotiator Peter Liese describing the result as "an historic breakthrough", his centre-right colleague Renate Sommer was less than impressed.

She accused the new plans of setting "a dangerous precedent in the restriction of the internal market".

The German deputy believes that "the EU has the world's strictest criteria for the approval of genetically modified food", adding that, "the fact that member states are still allowed to prohibit the cultivation of GM crops, not only violates our scientific principles, but also the principle of the internal market".

Jeff Rowe, chair of the agri-food council of the European association for bioindustries (EuropaBio), was equally critical of the new measures, calling them "a stop sign for innovation in Europe".

According to him, "this sets a dangerous precedent for the internal market and sends a negative signal to innovative industries considering investing in Europe".

MEPs are likely to bring the topic up again in future, as they agreed that while this compromise is better than the status quo, only time will tell how effective it is and more importantly, what exact impact GMOs have on our health.

A 2010 Eurobarometer survey on the issue revealed that 58 per cent of EU citizens think that GMOs are unsafe.


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