COUNTRIES will be able to ban the growing of genetically modified crops for socio-economic and ethical reasons under new proposals for the controversial but multi-billion euro industry.
The EU is split down the middle on whether to allow GM crops or not with Ireland being declared a GM-free island for cultivation although vast amounts of GM animal feed are imported and sold to farmers each year.
The split meant no new GM crops were approved by the EU for more than a decade despite complaints to the WTO by the US and huge pressure from multi-nationals like Monsanto.
Now for what is probably the first time ever, the European Commission — tired of being caught in the middle of the row — wants member states to take back the power to decide whether to ban the crops or not. Austria — which with Germany and France and several other countries are vehemently anti-GM — and pro-GM Netherlands has been pushing for such changes for some time.
Health Commissioner John Dalli said that while the Commission will continue to evaluate each GM before it can be used in the EU, once approved, each member state could then take the decision whether to use it or ban it on their territory.
As well as banning it on health and environment grounds, they could also do so on socio-economic and ethical ground. He refused to be drawn on what these might be.
Currently foods with up to 0.9% of GM content can be considered “GM free” but under the new proposals member states could lower this limit if they liked.
“This is not a trade off between banning and flexibility to approve GMOs,” he said.
Rules were being strengthened and post-marketing monitoring will be stepped up to ensure their assessment of GMOs that are permitted was correct, he added.
The GM industry has welcomed the attempt to break the impasse but say that it is allowing other issues such as ethical and socio-economic — which they refer to as anti-science — to enter into the equation.
Environmental groups and organic growers on the other hand fear that it will mean that more GM crops will be approved.
They point out that the socio-economic reasons are non-legislative allowing them to be used immediately, but that they would be open to legal challenges.
Mr Dalli said he hopes that when the issue goes to the European Parliament it opens a debate on GMOs.
He added that the Commission plans to publish two reports by external experts on the whole GMO issue in mid-2012.
“That is when the debate will start,” he said.
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