EU governments slam Brussels' GM crops plan
The European Commission's plans to hand over to member states the power to ban or authorise genetically modified (GM) crops were strongly criticised by key EU governments at an Agriculture Council yesterday (27 September).
All the EU's heavyweights opposed proposals put forward in July by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, aimed at ending more than a decade of deadlock on the GM crop cultivation in the EU.
Brussels' plan was criticised both by traditionally anti-GMO countries such as France and Italy and member states that have long been pro-GMO, such as Spain. Germany, the UK and Poland also opposed the proposal.
"It is not in one or two months that we can reach a compromise. The issue will be subject to long negotiations," acknowledged acting Belgian Agriculture Minister and current president of the EU Agriculture Council Sabine Laruelle.
Member states fear that the proposal may lead to the fragmentation of the internal market for agriculture goods. The Commission's proposal is also deemed incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
"The proposal does not undermine the internal market and it is not against WTO rules. It is the present situation which creates problems with the WTO," said Commissioner Dalli, responding to critics during a press conference in Brussels.
However, the Commission's plan is at risk of being withdrawn or radically modified. As a transitional measure, ministers agreed to establish a working group aimed at addressing the issues raised by critics of the proposals.
Dalli is also hoping that environment ministers, who also have a say on the matter, will adopt a less critical approach towards his idea. "Negotiations will go on at the Environment Council in three weeks," he said. The environment ministers are scheduled to meet on 14 October.
Belgian Minister Laruelle said it would be necessary to better inform the general public about GMOs to avoid dangerous simplifications. "Not all GMOs are bad, and not all are good," she said.
According to a Eurobarometer survey published in 2008, 58% of European citizens oppose GMOs, while only 21% declare themselves in favour of genetically-modified organisms. In some countries, such as Slovenia, Greece or Cyprus, over three quarters of the population are against GMOs.
Italian Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan confirmed Italy's traditional anti-GMO line by saying that the Commission proposal "would fragment the Common Agriculture Policy," and that is contrary to "the EU treaty and WTO rules".
However, he did not completely oppose the idea of using GMOs, as his predecessors used to do. "Experimentation is the keyword," he said at a press conference following the EU Council.
His Spanish colleague, Elena Espinosa, whose country has been traditionally been in favour of GMOs, expressed similar concerns. "Commission proposals will fraction the internal market and are against WTO rules," she said.
"The proposal would give way to a renationalisation of the agriculture policy, which should instead remain a European competence," she added.
ALDE MEP Corinne Lepage (France), who is the European Parliament's rapporteur on the GMO proposal, said: "Questions linked to legal certainty, the functioning of the internal market or the application of the conclusions of the December 2008 Environment Council on the improvement of sanitary and environmental risks are all elements which must be considered to evaluate this proposal."
Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “EU countries should not be duped into accepting the proposal as it stands and taking the pressure off the Commission to improve crop safety and prevent GM contamination. Unless safety testing is improved, the Commission will authorise a raft of new GM crops that have not been properly tested”, he said in a statement.
"Until Europeans and farmers can be sure that the dangers of GM crops are thoroughly addressed, EU ministers should demand a moratorium on new authorisations," he added.
Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, director for agricultural biotechnology at EU bioindustry lobby EuropaBio, said, "these proposals appear to give carte blanche to ban safe and approved GM crops in any country or region regardless of the needs or wishes of their farmers".
"In addition, the proposals will inject further legal uncertainty for those farmers that do wish to grow these crops. The upshot is that even as we contemplate a future fraught with the challenges of globalisation, climate change, food insecurity and shortage of natural resources, we will be denying our farmers the ability to use cutting edge technologies, already available to their counterparts outside the EU, to help them to deal with these same challenges," he added.