In a statement from the Commissioner in charge, Tonio Borg, said the agreement met member states consistent calls for more flexibility and legal certainty around national sovereignty in decisions on the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GM0). Commissioner Borg said the compromise entailed a two-step procedure that allowed member states to partially or totally ban GMO cultivation within their territory via an “opt out measure”, without initially having to provide justification.
Responding to the announcement yesterday, the UK’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson, said the move was a step forward in “unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops”.
The Commission said this system would offer “extended and legally sound possibilities for member states to better take into account their national context when deciding on GMO cultivation”.
The Council must now reach agreement with the European Parliament in order for the proposal to become law. The Commission hopes this will mean the legal tool will be used from 2015.
A two-step procedure
The first step covers the ’pre-authorisation geographical scope restriction’, while step two concerns the ‘post-authorisation opt-out’.
The initial step allows member states to request the applicant company, via the Commission, to specify in the application that the GMO cannot be cultivated on all or part of its territory, which can be done without “justification” from the state. In this first step companies can accept or reject the adjustments to its application’s geographical reach. However, if it does not accept member states can still issue an outright ban, regardless of the company’s stance.
Secondly, the member state will be able, by using an “opt-out measure”, to have the final say not to cultivate an GMO already authorised in the EU on its soil.
With regards to this phase, the Commission said: “After authorisation of the GMO, the member states’ opt out measures have to be based on a wide range of reasons such as: environmental or agricultural policy objectives, town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, avoidance of GMO presence in other products, or public policy, to name a few.”
Within the agreement, member states retain their right to change their decision during the ten-year GM authorisation period, if new objective circumstances arise. It could also see states allowing GMO cultivation in some regions, and not others.
‘This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process’
Commissioner Borg said the outcome - which comes as a direct response to a request made by 13 member states in 2009 - was a balanced compromise text, and he thanked the Greek Presidency for finding common ground amongst the different views and concerns. He said:"I am delighted to announce that the Environment Council has just broken the deadlock on the GMO cultivation proposal and has reached a political agreement that moves towards a new legal basis giving Member States the choice to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory."
The UK’s Environment Secretary, said: “This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops, which is currently letting down our farmers and stopping scientific development.”
“If the European Parliament passes this law, all regions of the UK will have more power in deciding whether to grow GM crops that have passed a robust, independent safety assessment.
“Resolving the gridlock in Europe will boost scientific research and investment in the UK, a key part of our long-term economic plan,” he said.
The UK has invested £160m in its Agri-Tech Strategy, according to the country’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The department said this proposal was an example of how the EU could be flexible, allowing greater control for members states to make their own decisions that were in their national interest.