The national governments of the EU are to be offered more freedom to choose whether they want to grow genetically modified (GM) crops.
The European Commission is to publish next month a proposal to allow member states to decide whether or not to cultivate crops, although an EU-wide system would theoretically remain in place.
John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, will discuss the ideas with members of the European Parliament’s environment committee at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday (15 June). Formal proposals on how to revise the EU’s GM authorisation system will be published in July.
The EU has long been deadlocked over genetically engineered crops, with the Council of Ministers unable to accumulate majorities either to reject or approve authorisation for GM crops. Since 1998, only two GM products, an insect-resistant maize and a potato engineered for starch production, have been authorised for cultivation.
The proposal might make it easier for pro-GM countries to grow more crops, while leaving countries opposed to GMs to hold out against them. Six countries – Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg – already have a safeguard clause that entitles them to prohibit the sale or cultivation of GM crops.
Carel du Marchie Sarvaas at the European Association for BioIndustries (Europabio) said: “The impacts of this legislation on markets and the food chain are unknown and could be deeply disruptive. The Commission needs to clarify what its thinking is.”
Adrian Bebb at Friends of the Earth gave the Commission’s proposals a cautious endorsement. “This is a welcome opportunity for countries in Europe to ban GM crops, but it could open the door for pro-GM member states to cultivate GM crops. We need an immediate ban on growing GM crops,” he said.
The Commission will not take any decisions to authorise new crops for cultivation before its proposal is published.
Around 100,000 hectares of GM crops are planted in the EU, compared to 134 million worldwide. Spain is the biggest EU producer and grew around 75,000 hectares of GM maize in 2007, followed by the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Poland and Slovakia.
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