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EU nations go on blocking GM crops

Perceived risk of GM maize, © fotolia.com/ pogonici

The EU’s opt-out clause for GM cultivation has missed its goal to accelerate EU market approval of safety-assessed genetically modified crops whilst giving member states the option to opt out from cultivation for political reasons.

Albeit 17 member states have implemented national rules to opt out from cultivation, the first test of the rule’s effect failed. On Monday, a majority of EU member states voted against EU approval for cultivation of two insect-resistant GM crops: Syngenta’s Bt11 maize and Pioneer’s/Dow Agro Sciences’ maize 1507. Both approvals were pending since 2005, in 2005 and 2008 the European food watch dog EFSA concluded they were as safe as crops that were conventionally bred. However, approvals were pending because EU member states – as in the current vote – did not meet a qualified majority. The Commission is now in the same situation as it was before establishment of the opt-out clause: it has to decide over market approval.

Member states also failed to reach a qualified majority over the extension of market authorisation of the only GM crop that ever got EU approval for cultivation, BASF/Monsanto’s Mon810 maize. While campaigners from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe said the Commission had now the historical opportunity to follow the will of a majority of EU citizens and ban the GM crops, the situation isn’t so easy as international trade rules prohibit bans on goods that have assessed safe for human health and the environment.

Biotech industry organisation EuropaBio’s Secretary General, Nathalie Moll, stated that “the EU must not let politics trump science” concerning GMOs. She criticised a legislative proposal drafted by the European Commission to reform the decision-making system known as ‘comitology’. The Commission plans to add two further member state votes to the current procedure, which already includes two votes. In terms of safety-assessed GMOs, this would lengthen decision-making on EU market approval even further. To date, 18 European associations back the criticism in a joint statement. “We strongly agree that member states should take their responsibility to vote in favour of approving market access for safety-assessed products,” she said. Countries which refuse to vote in favour of GM import approvals import GM soybeans roughly equaling the weight of their entire populations each year.