BRUSSELS — The European Parliament is debating a law which would allow individual countries in the European Union to ban genetically modified organisms, but opponents of GMOs and lawmakers both seem unhappy with the plan.
GMOs already face a difficult time reaching European soil, due to regulations that require a favorable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority followed by a vote by member states. “However, GMOs are such a divisive issue in Europe that countries rarely reach a qualified majority in favour or opposed to the authorisation of one,” wrote Peter Teffer in EU Observer last week.
The proposal that came before the European Parliament on July 13 would allow an individual country to ban GMOs outright, circumventing the EFSA and the usual voting process. But, according to Teffer, it faced “almost unanimous … skepticism” from Europe’s agriculture ministers, regardless of where they stand on the issue of GMOs. The report elaborated on the reaction from diplomats and ministers from several countries:
“‘The proposal has created more questions than provided solutions,’ said German deputy food and agriculture minister Robert Kloos, adding the proposed GM opt-out ‘is neither practical nor legally sound.’
His British colleague, George Eustice, said he did not understand how the proposed powers could work ‘in practice’ without violating internal market rules.
‘It’s not useful, it’s impracticable, and it’s likely to bring a large majority against it,’ said French diplomat Alexis Dutertre on behalf of his minister.”
Another concern raised was whether the ban might conflict with existing laws or global trade deals.
Even some opponents of GMOs are concerned the law would create an impractical patchwork of differing bans in Europe. Among the groups calling instead for a Europe-wide ban on GMOs is the German Beekeepers Association (DIB). In a German-language press release published June 8, the association raised the concern that there would be no way to prevent bees from traveling to neighboring countries, which could potentially harm consumer confidence in the purity and safety of GMO-free honey products. “Bees know no borders,” they wrote, explaining that bees can travel up to 8 kilometers to gather nectar and pollen.
According to GM Watch, an aspect of European law called the principle of proportionality might prevent large-scale bans, but could allow for smaller, regional bans instead:
“A lawyer from the EU Council, Matthew Moore, speaking at [a conference on the proposal] in a personal capacity, agreed that it would be far easier under the law to defend national measures that ‘do not extend to the whole territory.’
Mr Moore gave an example of the type of challenge that would-be opting-out countries will be faced with. If they argue that GMOs threaten small-scale and agroecological farmers in their nation, they could be asked: ‘Is the entirety of your agricultural sector really composed of small farmers whose domination by a large agro-industrial company and its single pesticide motivated you to act?’”
According to European Parliament News, the proposal will come up for vote in October but faces strong opposition. “We don’t have any plan B for this proposal,” lamented European Commission representative Ladislav Miko. “If the proposal is rejected, we will stay in the current situation.”