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Members of the European Parliament rubber-stamped controversial rules on Monday permitting EU member states to decide themselves whether to allow the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, which are currently grown in only five EU countries, according to new news and policy site EurActiv. Praised by some experts as liberating, but attacked by others as undermining the single market, the proposal breaks a 15-year deadlock in growing GM crops. Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, currently only a Monsanto GM maize, authorised in 1998, is grown, mainly in Spain and Portugal, but also in the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia.
Other pro-GM governments, the UK and the Netherlands, would like to see more varieties approved and grown on their soil. But they have been frustrated by opponents, such as France, Germany, Luxembourg and Austria, which have blocked the qualified majority required in Brussels to give the go-ahead. These countries together with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Italy have adopted safeguard measures prohibiting the cultivation on their territories.
Adopted by a very large majority (480 votes in favour), the agreement will give more freedom, more flexibility to Member States as well as greater legal certainty, said Belgian MEP Frederique Ries, responsible for the dossier.
After months of negotiations, the European Commission, the Parliament and member states have agreed on a scheme for authorisation which will allow member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of specific GMOs in their territory based on environmental, agricultural, socio-economic policy objectives, even if Brussels gives the green light for their cultivation.
Monday’s decision means that the seven GMOs already approved but not cultivated in Europe could find their way into European fields as soon as early next year.
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was present during the debate, welcomed the agreement, adding it allows freedom of choice.
“The agreement states that it will give member states the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory without affecting the EU risk assessment,” he said. Under the new rules, the Commission will review and reinforce the rules on the risk assessment undertaken by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) within two years, so that authorisations will be granted on the basis of independent and sound scientific evaluations.
Environmentalists and Green MEPs, who voted against the proposal, say that the legislative ‘renationalisation’ is a false solution, adding that the EU has de facto abandoned its responsibility to protect Europeans’ public health, as well as quality agriculture and the environment.