Commission Presents GMO Package

Member States have been given the freedom to restrict or ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on their territory under new non-binding co-existence guidelines as part of a new package of legislative and non-legislative measures adopted by the European Commission on 13 July. The package consists of:

  • a Communication setting out the proposed approach;
  • a new Commission Recommendation on co-existence rules, which comes into immediate effect; and
  • a draft Regulation setting out proposed changes to GMO legislation which must now be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Co-Existence shifts to DG SANCO

The Commission has taken a two pronged approach to its proposals on GMO policy comprising both legislative and non-legislative changes which foresee an end to the validation of EU-wide authorisation licenses for GM cultivation under the principle of the common market. The first, non-legislative, element comprises a Commission Recommendation on national co-existence measures, which allows Member States to establish GMO free zones and adopt stricter measures to prevent the unintended presence of GM products in other goods. Effective immediately, it replaces the 2003 Commission guidance on co-existence.

Effectively, the recommendation gives a green light to allowing Member States to instigate a de facto ban on GMO cultivation by providing clear guidance on how co-existence rules may be put in place. The introduction of these new rules also sees a shift in competence for their application from DG AGRI to DG SANCO – the EU’s health and consumer affairs directorate. Health Commissioner John Dalli welcomed the move, hailing it as a ‘positive step’.

The second element of the new GMO package involves legislative proposals to amend Directive 2001/18/EC. The proposed insertion of Article 26b gives Member States the power to restrict or ban the cultivation of GM crops on all or part of their territory on grounds other than those covered by EU health and environmental risk assessments, such as socio-economic considerations. In the accompanying Commission Communication the Commission outlines that this new approach is ‘necessary to achieve the right balance between maintaining the EU system of authorisation based on scientific assessment of health and environment risks and the need to grant freedom to Member States to address specific national, regional or local issues raised by the cultivation of GMOs’.

NGOs and industry left unsatisfied

NGOs have argued that the proposals do not go far enough, dubbing them a thinly veiled attempt to lure Member States into supporting a lower regulated approval system for GMOs. Industry officials have equally bemoaned the fact that this could allow Member States to ban GMOs without providing sufficient scientific reasoning. Both sides, however, expressed fears over the legal vulnerability of the proposals, and since the plans have been launched the Commission has granted approval for the import of five new GMO maize varieties for food and feed purposes.

It is expected that the Belgian Presidency will continue discussions on these proposals at the Agriculture and Environment Councils scheduled for September and October.

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29 Jul 2010




The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.