Proposals for Greater flexibility for GM Crop Approval System

Proposals have been developed by the Commission that seek to introduce increased flexibility into the genetically modified crop approval system, giving Member States greater powers to ‘opt-out’ of genetically modified crop cultivation once EU authorisation has been given.


Discussions in the EU surrounding the authorisation of genetically modified (GM) crops have generally been protracted with a string of ‘no opinion’ decisions being taken with regards to the approval of GM crops. Only two GM crop varieties (MON 810, and Amflora potatoes) have been approved for cultivation in the EU in the past 12 years, in comparison with the 150 that have met with approval globally.

There remains considerable public resistance to GM crop cultivation in many Member States. One of the barriers to gaining authorisation for the cultivation of GM crop varieties at present is that, once an authorisation licence has been granted, it applies to all the EU-27 Member States, with individual governments only being able to restrict their cultivation under strict conditions. In order to unblock the impasse in GM crop approvals, Commission President Barroso pledged to consider introducing greater subsidiarity to Member States on this issue at the start of his second term in office earlier this year.

New proposals drawn up by DG Sanco are understood to be in interservice consultation. It is estimated that the proposals could be published as early as 13 July. They involve the immediate relaxation and re-interpretation of co-existence rules as well as amendments to the core GM cultivation legislation to extend the criteria under which Member States can argue for non cultivation of GM crops in their territory beyond those relating to human health and the environment to include socio-economic considerations.

Member States to be given greater powers to ban GM crop cultivation

As a short term solution, under the proposals, Member States would be given greater flexibility to ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory, through a relaxation of the way in which coexistence rules are interpreted. Currently these allow Member States to define so called ‘exclusion areas’ around conventional and organic crops where GM crops may not be grown. In practice this would allow Member States to extend these areas to the extent that GM cultivation would not be possible across their territory.

Legislative changes

A second proposal provided a longer term solution to GM opt-outs, which would allow Member States to implement more permanent measures protecting themselves against the cultivation of specific crop varieties. This involves amendments to Commission Directive 2001/18 which would extend the current ‘safeguard clause’ to allow Member States to adopt measures, prohibiting, restricting or impeding the cultivation of all or particular genetically modified organisms (GMOs) including GM varieties placed on the market.

the new proposal would give Member States the power to ban the cultivation of GM crops on socio-economic grounds.

Currently the safeguard clause can be invoked by Member States to override EU authorisation on human health or environmental grounds, backed up by scientific evidence. For the first time, the new proposal would give Member States the power to ban the cultivation of GM crops on other grounds too, including for socio-economic reasons.

Member State and Stakeholder Reactions

The proposed changes have had a mixed reception. The proposals seem to have been welcomed by most Member States, although Spain has expressed concerns about the precedent that this could set for the re-nationalisation of policy. Reactions from environmental and industry stakeholders have been somewhat less enthusiastic. Friends of the Earth Europe, for example, have welcomed the opportunity the proposals give for Member States to ban GM crops, but are concerned that they also give the green light to large scale GM cultivation in those Member States who do want to cultivate GM crops. Industry representatives on the other hand bemoaned the fact that the changing regulatory environment made the business of GMO cultivation unpredictable, claiming that the proposals are not in keeping with the single market, could spark disputes between Member States and may even be open to challenge by the World Trade Organisation.

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