Ending the stale-mate? Member States are given further rights to ban GMOs on their territories.

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Image from Flickr by Perry McKenna. Licensed under the Creative Commons

Image from Flickr by Perry McKenna. Licensed under the Creative Commons

Member States will have stronger legal rights to ban the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on their territories following EU negotiations which took place on 3-4 December. Negotiations between the European Council and European Parliament were based on the European Commission’s proposal to allow national cultivation bans, even if a GMO crop has been approved at EU level, in an aim to break the stale-mate in EU GM crop authorisation.

This blog post follows on from the In Brief post Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Changes to the authorisation process for cultivation in outlining the conclusions of the recent negotiations. For more detail on the GMO authorisation process and the new regulation see our upcoming Research Note.


GMOs are authorised for cultivation at EU level following an application by a company. Currently, only one crop is approved for commercial cultivation in the EU; insect resistant maize (MON 810). The reason that very few GM varieties have been approved for cultivation in over 12 years is because Member States have often failed to reach a majority in the authorisation process resulting in a stale-mate within the Council.

Article 23 of the Directive 2001/18/EC the ‘safeguard clause’, currently allows Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of an authorised GMO product if they have additional scientific evidence that proves the product is a danger to the environment and/or human health within their territory. However, few Member States have successfully used the safeguard clause to ban GMOs as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)   has not approved the evidence provided.

The Commission’s proposed regulation (amending Directive 2001/18/EC), published in July 2010, aimed to give Member States greater powers to restrict the cultivation of GMOs on their territory without having to use the existing safeguard measures. This would allow pro-GMO countries the option of growing new varieties whilst allowing others to opt-out on a number of socio-economic and environmental grounds.

Outcome of negotiations

Following four years of discussions, a compromise was reached in early December 2014. The text, approved by the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) on 10 December 2014, entitles Member States to pass legally binding acts restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GMO crops. The approved list of grounds for a ban includes town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, co-existence and public policy.

The environmental policy objectives used for justification of a ban will relate to environmental impacts other than the risks to health and the environment assessed during the EFSA’s scientific risk assessment. Bans could also include groups of GMOs designated by crop or trait. The new deal did not include MEP’s demands for a much wider list of grounds including specific environmental reasons. The agreement also requires Member States to ensure that GMO crops do not contaminate other products, and attention should also be paid to preventing cross-border contamination with neighbouring countries where GMOs are banned.

The Environment Committee Chair, Giovanni La Via, said:

This agreement was long overdue and we welcome this result…Member states wishing to restrict or ban GMOs would now have the possibility to do so, without facing the risk of being taken to court. It is important to let the member states take a decision in full subsidiarity, and to listen to our citizens, who, in certain member states, refuse to have GMOs forced upon them.

Other commentators remain sceptical over whether the deal will change the rate of approvals [Agra Facts No.90-14]. Greenpeace states that the agreed text is legally weak and is disappointed that the final compromise rejects calls by the European Parliament to reinstate countries’ right to use environmental concerns to ban GM cultivation.

Member States and the European Parliament must vote on the final deal, with a plenary vote expected in January 2015. The regulation is expected to come into effect in the spring of 2015. The agreement comes as the Commission decides the final approval of DuPont Pioneer’s GM maize 1507, which could become the second GM maize crop to be grown in the EU following the application for authorisation which was submitted in 2001.

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.