A wave of genetically-modified (GM) crops could soon be grown in Europe following an announcement by the European Commission promising to nationalise the decision-making process.
Individual countries in Europe can already block the planting of GM crops by invoking a so-called 'safeguard clause', if they have justifiable reasons to consider that it poses a risk to human health or the environment.
The new EU proposals, which are still to be approved by member states and the EU parliament, would allow countries to ban GM crops for other reasons, such as social/economic reasons or concern about cross contamination of conventional and organic crops.
Current EU rules on GM
GM is currently considered on a case-by-case basis by the EU. Although several varieties are technically allowed to be grown in Europe, only two are currently being cultivated - GM maize (genetically modified to protect the crop against the European corn borer pest and authorised in 1998) and a GM starch potato (a potato with increased starch content intended for industrial use and authorised in 2010, the first to be approved in 12 years).
Countries including Austria, Hungary, Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg are known to be keen to declare themselves GM-free and regions in Italy and Germany have already done so.
The new EU proposal would make this legally acceptable, stating: 'When the legal amendment enters into force, Member States will be free to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of all or particular GMOs, in parts of or in their entire territory. This amendment will be applicable to all GMOs that have been authorised for cultivation in the EU.'
However, anti-GM campaigners say nationalising GM decision-making, if accepted, would allow new crops to be fast-tracked into farming and end the current political deadlock between countries at a European level.
'In an attempt to muddle through with a pro-GM agenda, [the EU] is offering countries national bans if they turn a blind eye to the health and safety concerns they have about new crops during the EU authorisation process,' said Greenpeace policy advisor Stefanie Hundsdorfer.
'Individual bans cannot replace a scientifically sound EU-level safety procedure,' she added. 'GM contamination does not stop at national borders.'
The EU insists it won't 'fast-track' GM in Europe arguing, 'there would be no speeding up of authorisations or weakening of the rigorous environmental risk assessment requirements of the legislation.'
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