EP Committee Rejects GMO Opt-out Plan

16.10.2015 -

By an overwhelming majority of 47 to 3 with 5 abstentions, the Environment committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament (EP) has recommended that the full parliament reject the EU Commission’s proposal to allow the 28 member states to individually ban the import or sale of genetically manipulated foods. A plenary vote on the proposal is scheduled for the Oct. 28 parliamentary session in Strasbourg. In the run-up to the ENVI vote, some committee members had said they intended to send a clear message to the EU that the plans were not consistent with the single market.

While many environmental advocates fear a parliamentary decision not to allow opt-outs could open the door to a flood GMO imports, ENVI said the Commission’s plan is simply unworkable. They favor a MEPS favor consensus at EU level. Separate rules, they believe, could lead to the reintroduction of border controls between countries – despite years spent trying to break down internal barriers.

“A clear majority in the committee does not want to jeopardize the internal market,” said ENVI chair Giovanni La Via. “For us, the existing legislation should remain in place, and member states should shoulder their responsibilities and take a decision together at EU level.”

With the opt-out proposal, the EU regulatory body had hoped to end the gridlock in the approval process. In particular due to fierce opposition in a number of member states, the only GMO crops currently authorized for sale are two strains of modified maize used for animal feed – both patented by Monsanto of the US.

According to an unofficial estimate, more than 90 varieties are approved in the US and 30 in Brazil, the two leading GMO markets. EU member states already have the right to ban cultivation of genetically manipulated crops on their territory, and to date 19 countries have taken advantage of the chance to do so.

The list of countries that declared such an intention by the Commission’s Oct. 3 deadline includes Austria, Belgium’s autonomous Wallonia region and all UK countries except England, along with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.

While the countries that don’t want GM crops planted on their own soil represent the majority, it is not clear which way a vote to prevent the crops from being sold in all member states would go. If ENVI’s reservations hold sway in the full parliamentary vote, the Commission will be forced to rethink the entire process. EuropaBio, the European  GM lobby, echoed by trade associations representing the European food commodities industries, applauded the committee’s thumbs down and urged the Commission to withdraw the planned legislation.

In a statement, three trade organizations, which said their views were aligned with those of the EP’s Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) committee, called the rejection of the Commission’s plan “a loud and clear step” toward preventing its adoption. In their view, national bans would endanger EU food production sectors that rely heavily on imports of GM feed.

Since the committee vote, anti-GM groups have been relatively silent. Ahead of the decision, however, Greenpeace said it was not sure whether the EU’s opt-out stance was legally watertight.

The Green group in the EP has now called on the Commission to draft a better proposal, saying the current situation, in which authorizations of GM crops can proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and over the opposition of a majority of EU citizens is intolerable.

Hungary meanwhile has taken matters into its own hands. The government has destroyed nearly 1,000 acres of maize found during an inspection to have been planted illegally with genetically modified seed. Lajos Bognar, deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development, said inspections will continue even though traders are themselves obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free.