EU ministers in stalemate over GM crops

European ministers have failed to agree to plans to let countries individually decide whether or not to grow or ban GM crops.

Environment ministers from EU countries met in Brussels on Friday (9 March) to debate a Danish-led proposal to allow member states to ban or allow cultivation of GM plants.

The Danish plan was seen as a compromise designed to break a deadlock which has split governments across Europe.

Speaking at the meeting, EU health and consumer commissioner John Dalli said: “The simple aim of this proposal is to give member states the possibility to have a say on whether or not they want to allow GMO cultivation on their territory.”

Mr Dalli said he believed the proposal provided an answer to a “long-standing problem” which would give member states adequate space with the EU’s legal framework.

But 10 member states, including Britain, Germany, Spain and France, declined support for the Danish compromise proposals.

The main reasons for opposing were:

  • The lack of legal certainty for member states wishing to ban GM crops
  • The proposals would break the EU internal market
  • Failure to deal with outstanding legal and procedural issues raised by the Environment Council in 2008, including GM contamination thresholds in seeds

“I wouldn’t call this proposal completely dead,” Danish environment minister Ida Auken told reporters after the meeting, Reuters news agency reported.

“There were some countries saying that the time is not right for Europe right now, that Europe wasn’t ready. I will look if Europe is ready in June before I call time on this proposal,” she said, referring to the next scheduled meeting of EU environment ministers.

Andrea Graham, NFU chief scientific adviser, said: “It is very disappointing that there is still no change in the deadlock over GM issues in the EU.

“The Danish proposal had merits and was welcome in that it brought everyone ot the table in a bid to try and break the current impasses and many countries have shown a willingness to work together to further negotiations.

“However, in its current format, it posed just too many concerns such as the risk of undermining the European Food Saferty Authority scientifc assessment by the introduction of additional socio-economic grounds.”

But Friends of the Earth said the EU faced a “barrage of new GM crops following the failure by ministers to reach an agreement”.

“With six applications to grow new GM crops in the pipeline, the pro-biotech health and consumer commissioner John Dalli could now proceed with their authorisations, despite their unpopularity with consumers and concerns over their safety,” said a statement.

Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said European governments had missed an “excellent opportunity to close the door on genetically-modified crops”.

Friends of the Earth Europe said it supported stronger rights for individual countries and regions to ban GM crops.

But it criticised the Danish plans as they proposed that countries ask biotech companies for permission to impose bans.

“Other options in the proposal were vague and failed to give any strong legal backing for bans,” added Mr Schimpf.

Pete Riley, campaign director of anti-GM lobby group GM Freeze, added: “We welcome the principle that countries should be able to decide what they grow and eat, particularly as the majority of citizens remain opposed to the introduction of GMOs.

“To secure this choice we must prevent GM contamination creeping into Europe’s fields or seeds, and place liability with GM companies where it belongs.”

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