19/07/2011 Parliament gives Member States the freedom to ban GMOs
The anti-GMO lobby scored a victory when the European Parliament chose to give Member States the power to ban the growth of genetically modified organisms in their own country. The report, voted in by an overwhelming majority, strengthens the position of Member States who are currently relying on the safeguard clause to ensure that there are no GMOs grown on their land (France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece, and Hungary).
Allowing GMOs within the EU will remain the remit of the Commission but Member States can choose whether or not to follow its advice. This is already possible through the safeguard clause but this is only a temporary device and does not protect Member States from a case being taken by the WTO. The Parliament’s position, which is still to be validated by the Council, gives Member States free reign to ban genetically modified crops. MEPs have gone further than the Commission proposal which did not include environmental risks as a reason for a ban as it believes this can only be assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). MEPs however proposed inclusion of some environmental risks such as protecting biodiversity, resistance to pesticides or simply lack of knowledge about the possible environmental consequences. Health risks, on the other hand, are not included as a possible reason for resorting to the national right whereas the Commission had included this. Furthermore the report includes socioeconomic factors such as in the case where there is an inability to control the risk of contamination with traditional crops. Member States are responsible for taking measures to prevent this type of contamination. While the issue of GMO crops concerns and mobilises European public opinion, it remains a very small part of overall agricultural production. Currently, only one type of potato and a strain of genetically modified maize can be grown in European soil. The reaction from the left is unanimous. The Socialists and Democrats group declared themselves satisfied with, “the best compromise for farmers and consumers” and believe the law “goes in the right direction: it protects freedom of choice”.The European United Left group sees the law as the first step towards a possible ban on GMOs in Europe highlighting that the Parliament went further than the Commission proposals. As for the Greens, they welcomed this vote that “gives a more solid basis to Member States that want to ban GMOs” but at the same time are afraid that the Commission “proposed this partial renationalisation with the aim of facilitating authorisation of crops at European level.” ALDE liberals, who include the rapporteur Corinne Lepage, believe that “this balanced agreement will allow States and regions not to proceed with GMO crop cultivation on duly justified grounds."