MEPs have rubber-stamped controversial rules permitting EU member states to decide themselves whether to allow the cultivation of GM crops – but the rules will allow GM crops to be fast-tracked through the EU approvals process
Note the UK government official’s statement in the Guardian article below (item 2) that GM maize 1507 is headed for England’s fields soon. This maize contains pesticidal Bt toxins that are proven to harm butterflies and is tolerant to the highly toxic herbicide glufosinate.
1. MEPs approve national ban on GM crops cultivation
2. GM crops to be fast-tracked in UK following EU vote
3. EU set to allow controversial genetically modified crops to be grown in the UK
4. EU vote means Govt must protect our right to grow and eat GM free – GM Freeze
5. EU Parliament to adopt new GM crop national opt-out law – Greenpeace
1. MEPs approve national ban on GM crops cultivation
MEPs have rubber-stamped controversial rules permitting EU member states to decide themselves whether to allow the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, which are currently grown in only five EU countries.
Praised by some experts as liberating, but attacked by others as undermining the single market, the proposal has managed to break a 15-year deadlock in growing GM crops. Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion.
There was no other credible alternative to the agreement, said Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, responsible for the dossier, speaking ahead of the vote. “We have a legal jungle and a recalcitrant council,” she added. Adopted by a very large majority (480 votes in favour), the agreement will give more freedom, more flexibility to Member States, as well as greater legal certainty, she insisted.
After months of negotiations, the European Commission, the Parliament, and member states have agreed on a scheme for authorisation which will allow member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of specific GMOs in their territory based on environmental, agricultural, socio-economic policy objectives, even if Brussels gives the green light for their cultivation.
Currently only a Monsanto GM maize, authorised in 1998, is grown, mainly in Spain and Portugal, but also in the Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia. Other pro-GM governments, the UK and the Netherlands, would like to see many more varieties approved and growing in their soils. But they have been frustrated by opponents, such as France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Austria, which have blocked the qualified majority required in Brussels to give the go-ahead. These countries together with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Italy have adopted safeguard measures prohibiting the cultivation on their territories.
Today’s decision means that the 7 GMOs already approved but not cultivated in Europe could find their way into European fields as soon as early as next year. Others might find their way in the near future.
Win-win deal for Commission and member states
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was present during the debate ahead of the vote, welcomed the agreement, adding it allows freedom of choice.
“The agreement states that it will give member states the possibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory without affecting the EU risk assessment,” he said.
The text agreed is in line with President Juncker's commitment, as reflected in his Political Guidelines, to give democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment.
"It was a very tough negotiation, but we managed to guarantee consumer protection and safety for farmers. Member states have to implement measures to avoid the contamination of traditional crops by GMOs from neighbouring member states. The Commission committed itself to evaluate national measures regarding financial compensation for farmers in case of accidental contamination,” said Gilles Pargneaux, S&D MEP in charge of the dossier.
Under the new rules, the Commission will review and reinforce the rules on the risk assessment undertaken by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) within two years, so that authorisations will be granted on the basis of independent and sound scientific evaluations.
Granting that the compromise is not perfect, MEPs say that necessary precautions will be taken when it comes to risk, even though Parliament’s request to establish a liability regime in case of damage was not retained.
“Member states and consumers can now feel safer about GMOs. However, we regret that there will be no fund to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated,” noted Matthias Groote, S&D spokesperson on the Environment, Food Safety, and Public Health.
Environmentalists and Green MEPs, who voted against the proposal, say that the legislative "renationalisation" is a false solution, adding that the EU has de facto abandoned its responsibility to protect Europeans’ public health, as well as quality agriculture and the environment.
“This new law is supposed to give countries some legal muscle to prevent GM crops from being grown on their territory. But it has some major flaws. It grants biotech companies the power to negotiate with elected governments and excludes the strongest legal argument to ban GM crops - evidence of environmental harm, Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director said.
José Bové, a French Green MEP, said, "in the short term, this change will allow multinationals like Monsanto to challenge national bans at the WTO or, if free trade deals like TTIP are finalised, in arbitration tribunals."
The last Eurobarometer on GMOs from December 2010 showed that only 21% of Europeans agree with the statement that GMO food is safer for future generation (against 58% who disagree).
In the coming months, the Commission will review the authorisation process of GMOs. This should include both rules for import into the European Union as well as for cultivation on European territory. The controversial debate is not over.
Green food safety spokesperson Bart Staes said: “This new scheme will ease the way for GMOs in Europe, whilst failing to respond to the need to address the flawed EU procedure for authorising GMOs. Despite a majority of EU member states and citizens being consistently opposed to GMOs, the real purpose of this new scheme is to make it easier to wave through EU authorisations of GM crops. Countries opposed to GMOs are given the carrot of being able to opt-out of these authorisations but the scheme approved today fails to give them a legally-watertight basis for doing so. This is a false solution.
"There is definitely a need to reform the EU's GMO authorisation process; we cannot persist with the current situation by which authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states in Council and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. However, the answer of this cannot be a trade-off of easier EU authorisations against easier national bans. This deal risks finally opening the door for genetically modified organisms to be grown across Europe. We now look to Jean-Claude Juncker to deliver on his promise to ensure the EU authorisation process is also reformed to reflect the consistent democratic opposition to GMOs in Europe."
Commenting after the vote, rapporteur for the report, MEP Frédérique Ries, said, "The current situation, with states or regions forced to go before the courts if they want to limit or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs, is not acceptable."
The SNP team in the European Parliament Alyn Smith MEP and Ian Hudghton MEP, have slammed the passage of new EU legislation on the cultivation of GM crops as a "Trojan horse riddled with loopholes" which potentially opens the door to much greater use of GM crops and circulation of GM products in Europe.
"The reality is that anyone who voted against this agreement today, voted for the status quo, which is simply not credible."
2. GM crops to be fast-tracked in UK following EU vote
The Guardian, 13 Jan 2015
* GM maize likely to be authorised in near future, as MEPs vote in favour of new rules to allow countries to choose whether to grow GM crops
GM crops could be speedily brought to the UK market after MEPs voted to allow countries to choose whether to grow the crops on Tuesday.
The new EU law, which comes into force this spring, will allow states to cultivate GM crops that have already been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). According to Sarah Cundy, the UK’s head of GM policy and regulation, that could happen quickly.
“We now expect to see GM maize 1507 get its final authorisation in the near future, and new applications should be approved much more quickly than has been the case until now,” she said in an email to the National Farmers Union, which the Guardian has seen.
The Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder welcomed the new rules, which passed with a 480-159 majority on Tuesday, as a decentralisation of power.
“We are keeping strict safeguards in place but the decision on whether or not to grow approved genetically modified crops is being returned to national governments,” she said. “This will give us a stronger legal framework in which countries, farmers and scientists can work.”
Last year, EU ministers voted to allow cultivation of DuPont Pioneer’s "Supercorn", also known as GM Maize 1507, after EFSA approved it despite concerns about the effects it might have on beneficial insects such as butterflies and moths. EFSA recommended addressing these with risk mitigation measures such as crop rotation and field buffer zones.
Another email from the environment minister Lord de Mauley to the Beyond GM campaigning group promises “pragmatic rules” for separating GM and non-GM crops to allow product labelling, and does not foresee commercial planting of crops “for at least a few years”.
Ecologists see this as a tacit nod for GM cultivation in the 2017 planting season if the Conservatives win the next election, although the Labour party also views biotechnology as a way to strengthen the UK’s food chain and reduce environmental damage, if it has public support.
But Marco Contiero, Greenpeace’s agriculture policy director said it would be “irresponsible” for Supercorn to be given a green light across Europe before national opt-out legislation had also entered into force. “The GM crop would encourage use of a herbicide so toxic that it will be banned in Europe by 2017,” he told the Guardian.
A spokeswoman for the UK’s Department for Food, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs played down the chances of new GM applications coming to market soon, as eight of those in the pipeline were for maize strains that are resistant to pests not found in the UK.
The chair of EFSA’s GMO panel, Professor Joe Perry said that its 20 academic experts would provide a stringent regulatory buffer against any threat to the environment or human health.
“Half a billion European consumers can be assured that when an opinion declares food from a GM crop plant to be safe, it can be consumed with confidence,” he said. “The current delay in approvals to import and cultivate GM crops within the EU is due to political disagreements, not due to disagreements over the quality of the risk assessments.”
But Green MEPs were sceptical about what the revised rules would mean in practice. “It’s a good thing that EU countries will have new powers to ban GMOs. However, what this means in reality for the UK is more GMOs not less,” said Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for south-east England. “This is because our pro-GM government will now be able to give the go-ahead to more authorisations.”
Friends of the Earth’s food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said, “This decision is good news for nations like Scotland and Wales, whose political leaders have opposed GM crops and can now ban them from their fields. But this ruling is a double-edged sword that could open the door to GM crops being grown in England.”
The new law does allow governments to opt out of GM cultivation either by negotiating with the firms for a territorial exclusion, which the companies may refuse, or by imposing national bans on single crops – which the companies can challenge.
In practice, environmentalists fear that countries wishing to ban GM will face protracted national court cases that graduate to the European court of justice and afford corporate protagonists equal or greater rights to national governments.
“General environmental policy objectives can be used to justify a ban under the amended directive, but they must be distinct from the environmental impacts that Efsa has already looked at,” Contiero said. “This means that EU states may face a de facto prohibition on citing environmental impact assessments they have themselves conducted in their own territories.”
Several European countries led by France and Hungary have GM bans in place, but others such as Britain and Spain have vocally supported the technology, with the UK abstaining from the final vote because of its provisions for GM embargoes.
“We are concerned that these national bans may deter new applications from coming forward,” Cundy said in her email. “We feel that the deal’s mandatory co-existence measures on borders between those member states who are cultivating GM crops and those that are not are too restrictive.”
The UK, however, has not cultivated GM maize.
3. EU set to allow controversial genetically modified crops to be grown in the UK
By Sean Poulter
Daily Mail, 13 Jan 2015
* Rules will allow Britain to grow crops banned in other European states
* Push for changes led by UK and Spain after meetings with GM companies
* Opponents say the products damage the environment, kill animal species
The European Parliament is today expected to clear the way for controversial "Frankenfood" crops to be grown in Britain. [GMW: The vote did indeed do this, see articles above.]
MEPs will vote to clear the block on growing controversial genetically modified (GM) crops that has effectively stopped commercial cultivation for a decade.
The new rules will allow each country to decide for itself whether or not to grow a GM crop – once it has been ruled safe by EFSA, which is the EU’s food safety body.
The deal has been engineered by the British government, which wants GM crops to be grown here, following a series of secret briefings with GM companies and their trade body.
The net effect is that even if a GM crop is banned in Germany, France, Italy, and other European states, the Westminster government can allow it to be grown here from as early as next year.
The Conservatives, Labour, and Lib-Dems in Westminster support GM crops, however; the administrations in Scotland, Wales, and many English councils remain opposed.
There is also concern among consumers amid suspicion the crops pose risks to human health and the environment.
At the same time, organic farmers and green campaigners point to the damage caused by the growing of GM crops on an industrial scale in North America.
There, superweeds have developed that are difficult to control, leading to the need for ever more powerful chemical weedkillers, while important species like the Monarch butterfly are under threat.
Critics fear that pollen from GM plants will spread to other conventional and organic crops, as well as honey, so polluting the entire food chain.
The first GM crops to be grown here could be varieties of corn or maize created by the labs of Syngenta and Monsanto, which are modified to give them protection from the weedkiller glyphosate, also known as RoundUp Ready.
The idea is that these crops can be blanket sprayed with the chemical which will kills off any weeds but allows the corn to grow.
Advocates claim that in the future GM technology could be used to produce more food in areas of drought, or develop plants that are high in beneficial nutrients.
The new legal regime that is expected to be adopted today is at odds with the principles of the EU and single market, which has previously insisted that all member states should apply the same rules on food and farming.
Despite that, it will be voted through because countries opposed to GM will be able to ban them, while those in favour, such as Britain and Spain, can go ahead.
The arrangements have been hailed as a success for the pro-GM campaigner and former Tory Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who was sacked last year. He, along with ministers from Spain, led the drive in Brussels to speed the commercial growing of GM crops.
The policy sprang out of a series of secret briefings between ministers, their civil servants and the GM industry’s Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which began in the summer of 2012.
Ministers subsequently promised incentives for investment, a strategy for biotech and, most significantly, efforts to reduce regulation and speed up GM crop approvals, which will come to fruition today.
The details of these meetings were revealed following a series of Freedom of Information Act requests by the campaigning group GeneWatch.
Its director, Dr Helen Wallace, said, "This EU deal arose from secret meetings between the UK Government and the GM industry, which wants to plant its RoundUp Ready GM crops in England, despite opposition from the public.
"Massive environmental problems with these crops in the USA include the devastating loss of 90per cent of Monarch butterflies and the spread of resistant superweeds, due to blanket spraying of the crops with weedkiller.
"Growing GM in England would risk contamination of non-GM crops, pushing up food prices and risking loss of export markets. The Scottish and Welsh governments will say no to GM crops, but in England people will have to fight for local regions to opt out."
Liz O’Neill, the director of GM Freeze, said, "Contamination incidents all over the world show that seed and pollen will spread wherever the wind, wildlife and human error take them, right along the supply chain.
"This directive offers no meaningful protection to people who want to make informed choices about what they are eating or to farmers who want to protect their fields from the superweeds and biodiversity loss associated with the kind of GM crops likely to be heading our way."
Last week, the government’s new Environment Secretary Liz Truss confirmed her support for GM. She told a farming conference in Oxford, "I think GM crops have a role to play here in Britain."
However, her counterpart in Scotland, Richard Lochhead, a member of the SNP, said, "The jury is still out on the environmental and scientific case for GM. We don’t want to see GM ruin Scotland’s reputation as a clean, green country."
4. EU vote means Govt must protect our right to grow and eat GM free
GM Freeze, 12 Jan 2015
With the European Parliament expected to open the door to more GM crop approvals by voting tomorrow to allow national GM crop bans, campaign group GM Freeze says the UK Government must protect people’s right to grow and eat GM-free.
GM Freeze has previously expressed concern about the legal basis for national bans, about the role of GM companies in negotiations and about the restrictions placed on reasons that national Governments can cite in imposing a ban. However, their greatest fears remain focused on the contamination of non-GM crops.
“Contamination incidents all over the world show that seed and pollen will spread wherever the wind, wildlife and human error take them, right along the supply chain.” says GM Freeze Director Liz O’Neill.
“This directive offers no meaningful protection to people who want to make informed choices about what they are eating or to farmers who want to protect their fields from the superweeds and biodiversity loss associated with the kind of GM crops likely to be heading our way. There are no EU-wide mandatory measures to prevent contamination within an individual member state and no rules governing liability. That means it’s down to the UK Government to protect our right to grow and eat GM Free.”
A recent letter from Defra minister Lord de Mauley to campaign group Beyond GM promised “pragmatic rules… to segregate GM and non-GM production” but failed to mention whether or not such rules would address the concerns of over 11,000 members of the public who responded to the department’s 2006 proposals on the subject. This will only serve to raise fears amongst campaigners concerned about the environmental, social and ethical impacts of GM crops and, indeed, anyone who values choice.
 It is expected that the option of imposing a national ban will break the stalemate between pro- and anti- GM nations within the EU, allowing GM crop applications to be approved more quickly.
GM Freeze is the UK’s umbrella campaign for those concerned about the impacts of genetic modification in food and farming. Members include Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association, development charities, organic and conventional farmers, scientists, campaigners, retailers and concerned individuals.
For further information, quotes or interviews, please contact Liz O’Neill direct on liz[at]gmfreeze.org or 0845 217 8992.
5. EU Parliament to adopt new GM crop national opt-out law
Greenpeace, January 12, 2015
On Tuesday, the European Parliament is expected to adopt a new law allowing EU countries to ban the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. The law is expected to come into force in the coming weeks, after rubber-stamping by European ministers.
Greenpeace is concerned that biotech companies will have a central role in the banning process and that EU countries could be exposed to legal challenges. This briefing explains the content of the new law and its likely consequences.
Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said, “This new law is supposed to give countries some legal muscle to prevent GM crops from being grown on their territory. But it has some major flaws: it grants biotech companies the power to negotiate with elected governments and excludes the strongest legal argument to ban GM crops – evidence of environmental harm."
To access the full media briefing, please click on the link below.