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EU Commission: Countries to decide independently on GM crops


(13 July 2010) As expected, the EU Commission decided on 13.07.2010 changes in the legal regulation of green biotechnology. Accordingly, Member States should be able to prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops that have been approved EU-wide. As the next step, the EU Parliament and Council of Ministers must agree.

In July, the Commission issued a "package" of measures, common goal of which was the “freedom of Member States” to decide upon the cultivation of GM crops in their territories.

The new guidelines on coexistence represent the first step in this direction. These guidelines come immediately into effect and replace the version which has been valid since 2003. They contain recommendations for Member States with regard to the measures with which coexistence of GM and non-GM based agricultural systems may be ensured.

The new recommendations largely allow Member States freely to decide how they regulate the cultivation of GM crops. States may issue very restrictive regulations or even prescribe ‘GM-free’ zones for particular regions. However, it also is possible that states renounce national coexistence guidelines.

According to the coexistence guidelines valid to date, the decreed measures should be appropriate to maintain the ‘unintended, technically unavoidable’ GMO presence in conventional supplies under the labelling threshold of 0.9 per cent that is valid for the whole EU. In contrast, even much smaller GMO admixtures may be regarded in the future as ‘economic damage’ when the food or feed in question may not be marketed or may be marketed only at a financial loss.

Additionally, the EU Commission plans to change the Directive 2001/18, the defining legal guideline for the approval and release of GMOs in the EU. The introduction of a new article (26b) is expected to give Member States the right to prohibit the cultivation of GM crops entirely or in particular regions without being obliged to indicate science-based doubts on the relevant safety assessment.

Such a national or regional cultivation ban should only be possible for GM crops that have been granted approval for cultivation in the EU. To date, this is the case with Bt maize MON810 and with the Amflora potato that has a modified starch composition. Three other applications for several GM maize lines as well as the renewal application for MON810 maize are pending for upcoming decisions.

The cultivation bans that are possible in the future do not need to be authorised by the EU Commission. However, the Member States will have to respect the general principles of the Treaties and the Single Market, and be consistent with the international obligations of the EU, such as those applying to international trade.

Approvals for food and feed produced from imported GM crops remain valid in all EU Member States. The EU approval process remains unchanged and, contrary to some press reports, will be neither accelerated nor simplified. Approvals of GM crops and of their derived food and feed products continue to be issued on the basis of a scientific safety assessment that is the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority ( EFSA).

It may take a while for the amended directive to come into effect. The EU Parliament and Council of Ministers must agree to the Commission’s legislative proposal.

 

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