Plans to allow individual countries in Europe to approve or ban genetically-modified (GM) crops are likely to stall because of opposition from Germany and France, according to European politicians.
At present, new GM crops are considered on a case-by-case basis by the European Commission although individual countries can block the planting of crops by invoking a 'safeguard clause' if they have justifiable reasons to believe it poses a risk to human health or the environment.
Only two GM crops are currently being cultivated in Europe - GM maize and GM starch potato. Austria, Hungary, the 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 proposals would legally allow them to do this as well as allowing others known to be in favour of cultivating GM crops, like Spain and the United Kingdom, to press ahead and avoid the current political deadlock between pro and anti-GM countries at a Europe-wide level.
However, George Lyon MEP who is publishing a report on the proposals on behalf of the European Parliament's Agricultural Committee, said Germany and France did not want to take on the responsibility for making decisions on GM crops. 'They would prefer to hide behind Europe and so it will probably end up being stalled,' he said. The Committee is due to vote on whether to accept the proposals before the end of the month. The Parliament's Environment Committee will then also vote on the issue.
The US, where biotech giant Monsanto is based, is increasingly frustrated at Europe's refusal to accept GM crops. US officials said recently they remained ‘surprised and disappointed’ over Europe’s refusal to embrace GM. A leaked document from the US embassy in Paris last month revealed moves to start a trade war against countries who opposed GM crops to help 'strengthen European pro-biotech voices'.
George Lyon said he believed the 'impasse' in Europe must be broken if farmers were not to be left behind as GM crops became the norm around the rest of the world. However, Greenpeace policy advisor Stefanie Hundsdorfer said as well preferring the EU Commission to be the 'scapegoat' for decisions on GM, France in particular was known to be concerned about the legal consequences of individual countries trying to ban a particular crop.
'A lot of member states who like the idea of the ban are worried that they do not see a legal basis and that there could be problems in the in the courts or with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).'
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