MPs in Europe have backed plans to allow EU countries to ban the cultivation of genetically-modified crops on political grounds.

A vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday (5 July) saw MEPs support amended European Commission proposals, which would allow member states to ban GM crops on socio-economic reasons.

It means countries could disregard advice from the European Food Safety Authority on the safety GM crop varieties and ban the technology on the grounds of factors such as the potential for civil unrest.

The NFU criticised the decision and said MEPs were “setting a dangerous precedent” by ignoring science and allowing member states to make emotive decisions about GMs.

“The measures proposed could have a serious and detrimental consequence for farmers, consumers and scientists on all sides of the GMO debate,” said Helen Ferrier, NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser.

“We are disappointed that MEPs have decided to act according to emotive and political agendas rather than robust scientific evidence.

“This stance could discourage scientific research and investment in the EU which are crucial for sustainable agriculture.”

While MEPs were concerned about GM crops being grown alongside non-GM crops, Dr Ferrier said the two systems could co-exist if a strong legal framework was in place.

But she said the rules must be based on science and market mechanisms so that farmers were given a choice over which crops to grow.

“We believe a common authorisation procedure with common evaluations of health and environmental safety will best serve EU farmers, consumers and the environment,” she added.

Tuesday’s vote was the first time the proposals had been given a reading in the European Parliament.

An NFU Brussels spokesman said the vote was a statement from MEPs on how they wanted GM policy to move forward, but it could be some time before any policy is agreed.

Ministers must come to an agreement with the Agriculture Council before any regulation is finalised, but the Council has not yet been given a mandate to begin its own reading of the plans.

The council’s reading has been stalled after a number of member states – including the UK – voiced concern over legal issues within the proposals.