EU member states could soon have the right to ban the cultivation of GMOs at home even if they have been approved at EU level. The European Parliament is currently looking into a draft proposal to widen countries' powers to legally justify a national or regional ban on GMO cultivation. The Parliament's environment and public health committee will vote on its recommendation to MEPs on 10 November.
An update of the rules is necessary as GMOs continue to prove controversial. According to a Eurobarometer survey in 2010, 59% of Europeans do not believe that GMO foods are safe for future generations. In February 2014, 19 out of 28 member states spoke out against approving TC1507 genetically modified maize.
Current legislation authorises the marketing of GMOs only after approval based on a scientific assessments of the risks to people, animals and the environment. However, countries are keen to have more possibilities to block cultivation in their own territory and the EU institutions agree.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the new European Commission that took office on 1 November, told MEPs in July that a revision of GMO legislation was necessary: "I consider it unacceptable that, under current rules, the Commission is legally obliged to authorise the import and processing of new GMOs, even in cases where a clear majority of member states are opposed to their use."
The proposal enabling a member state to invoke legal justifications to prohibit GMO cultivation will have to be approved by both the European Council and the European Parliament before it can enter into force.
Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, who is in charge of steering the proposal through Parliament, wants to strengthen the original Commission proposal by better clarifying the justifications. They could include environmental considerations, such as the protection of biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems and socio-economic criteria like the risk of contamination for organic and conventional farmers. Ms Ries also believes it is necessary to improve risk evaluation procedures and amend the proposal to guarantee the transparency of the procedure to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation, to ensure such decisions are made public.
After the Parliament's environment and public health committee has voted on its recommendation, it will be put to MEPs in an upcoming plenary session.
Thank you to Claudio Ar for making the photo available.