A "messy compromise" of a proposal devolving GMO decisions to EU member states allows GMO corporations to ride roughshod over Europe.

EXCERPT: Commenting on the proposal, Keith [Taylor MEP] said: "In the absence of an EU-wide moratorium on GMOs, which is what the Greens call for, we need robust rules to defend individual countries who want to ban GMOs – this is far from what we have on the table at present."

1. EU go-ahead for GMO crops
2. Keith Taylor MEP calls on UK government to reject flawed proposal on national GMO bans
1. EU go-ahead for GMO crops
The Ecologist, 12 June 2014

* The EU's Environment Council voted today to devolve GMO decisions to member states - in effect allowing pro-GM governments to go ahead. This messy compromise threatens to allow GMO corporations to ride roughshod over Europe

The European Union Environment Council today voted to allow member countries to grow GM crops on a devolved basis.

The UK supported the proposal, and is certain to be one of the first countries to press ahead with GM crop plantings - at least in England, where Agriculture is under the control of the strongly pro-GM environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Two varieties of "Roundup-Ready" GM maize - resistant to the herbicide glyphosate - are poised to be approved for cultivation in the UK.

However environment groups remain fiercely opposed to the introduction of herbicide resistant crops, due to the huge increases in herbicide use that follow - as seen in the USA, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina - and the toxic herbicide residues that remain in the harvested food.

Now they are pinning their hopes on the European Parliament, which still has the power to block the move.

Political deadlock "broken"

Following the vote EU Commissioner Borg 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.

"Today's political agreement meets Member States' consistent calls since 2009 to have more flexibility and legal certainty for national decisions on cultivation on their territory or part of their territory."

Under the rules, only GM varieties approved by the EU can be approved at national level, and even if varieties are approved at EU level, member states can opt out of growing them. However this power is limited - according to the Commission:

"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."

A "deeply flawed proposal"

GM Freeze Director Liz O'Neill commented: "EU Environment Ministers have waved through a deeply flawed proposal to the next stage because Owen Paterson and friends think it's more important to get GM crops into the ground than to protect people's right to say 'No'.

"The legal basis for so called 'national opt-outs' is questionable at best, and even if a country or region does manage to establish a ban they will find it very difficult to protect their fields and food from contamination if their neighbours start growing GM.

"Farmers, food producers, and consumers should all be able to choose GM-free without fear of contamination. We trust that MEPs will listen to the concerns of their constituents when they get a chance to vote on this dangerous proposal."

Can devolution work for GMOs?

GM Freeze also questions whether devolution is actually possible, as a result of cross field and cross border contamination of GMO and non-GMO seed and pollen, and accidental seed mixing.

In their briefing, released earlier this month, the pressure group argues: "Any acceleration in GM crop approvals and uptake will occur in a context of limited, weak, or absent coexistence regulations.

"Contrary to the usual Polluter Pays principle applied in other industries, there is no liability regime identifying who is accountable for the damage caused by GM contamination."

It also argues that the proposal "undermines democratic decision making by requiring Member States to negotiate with GM companies with a clear conflict of interest in banning their own crops."

Furthermore for member states to forgo the use of specific GMO crops, once approved at EU level, "All options require the indefinite acquiescence of GM companies, among others, to have any legal surety.

"This means that Member States wishing to ban any authorised GM crop do not have any meaningful assurance that such measures would not at some point be challenged in the courts or under international trade agreements."

A deceitful, messy, and unprincipled compromise

The move was presaged in The Ecologist two weeks ago when Lawrence Woodward denounced the direction being taken in "Deceitful compromise clears the way for GMO crops in Europe":

"This deal is a messy and unprincipled compromise which could lead to the kind of devastation of the EU countryside and food system that genetic engineering and the unrestrained activities of GMO companies has brought on the US."
2. Keith calls on UK government to reject flawed proposal on national GMO bans
Keith Taylor MEP, 11 June 2014

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, has written a letter urging the UK government to reject a flawed EU proposal which would give biotech industries a say on whether governments can ban the cultivation of GMO crops in their countries.

The proposal, if adopted tomorrow by Environment Ministers, will force Member States who wish to ban GMOs to request authorisation, via the European Commission, from biotech companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta. If rejected by industry, governments can still implement a ban, but the reasons permitted for doing so are legally weak and unclear.

Worryingly, a ban put in place in defiance of industry’s wishes may not be legally strong enough under the current proposal to withhold challenges from the WTO and from other countries through international trade agreements.

In addition, the proposal diminishes the need for rigorous scrutiny of the health and environmental risks associated with GMOs, riding roughshod over the precautionary principle.

Commenting on the proposal, Keith said: "In the absence of an EU-wide moratorium on GMOs, which is what the Greens call for, we need robust rules to defend individual countries who want to ban GMOs – this is far from what we have on the table at present."

"I urge the UK government to reject this proposal outright, unless they are able to amend the text in a number of key ways which would bring it more into alignment with the position of the European Parliament, adopted in 2011. One essential change would be that any wording that gives biotech companies a role in the decision to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMO crops must be deleted."

"Surely the UK government can’t agree with ceding vital decision-making power to multi-nationals when it comes to the food we grow and eat? Even taking into account the government’s misguided pro-GMO stance, this current proposal weakens the power of our government to make its own decisions and must be rejected."