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EU parliament votes to allow restrictions on GM food

Posted on behalf of Barbara Casassus.

The European Parliament yesterday voted overwhelmingly to give European Union (EU) countries wider powers to ban or restrict the cultivation of genetically modified crops without infringing international trade law.

Altogether 548 MEPs voted in favour of allowing governments to invoke environmental reasons for deciding against GMOs, with 84 against and 31 abstentions. The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, had proposed giving countries flexibility on the grounds of public order or public opinion, but wanted to keep the responsibility for deciding on health and environmental factors after they are assessed by the European Food Safety Authority.

If the Parliament has its way, the 27 EU countries will be able to cite pesticide resistance, biodiversity preservation or lack of data on potential harm to the environment as reasons for ban genetically modified crops without risk of violating international trade rules. They would also be able to set up a system to compensate conventional or organic farmers for crops contaminated by GMOs.

“I had expected more opposition on what is a very controversial subject and has been an issue of public concern for years, ” says Corinne Lepage, rapporteur for the draft legislation and a French member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group. ALDE is the Parliament’s third largest group and holds the balance of power in the chamber.

Only one strain of genetically modified maize, Monsanto 810, and one modified potato have been approved in the EU, and most countries grow neither commercially. Spain accounts for about 80% of GMOs grown in the EU in terms of land under cultivation, but Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg have activated an opt-out “safeguard clause” under the 2001 directive to ban all GMO cultivation.

The text, an amendment to the 2001 directive, will be discussed in October by the European Council, which represents the 27 EU member states. Lepage hopes the Council will “find a common position,” and will act rapidly to implement it. The Parliament “has gone very fast, having started work on the issue only towards the end of last year,” she says.

Find more of Nature‘s coverage of GM food issues here.


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