With most of the EU by population and by arable production area now closed to GM crop cultivation, further countries may make a last minute scramble to join the GM opt out.
In the latest blow to the European Commission's laissez-faire approach to GM crops, at least 15 EU countries and four regions (in two other countries) are in the process of banning the cultivation of GM crops on their territories.
As of today, 1st October, ten EU countries (Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland).
In addition four regional administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium - have formally notified the Commission of their intention to ban GM crop cultivation under new EU rules.
Statements by governments to the media also inform of impending notifications by five additional countries - Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. This brings the total number of countries who have already declared their intention to put in place GM crop bans to 15.
The 15 countries and four regions represent 65% of the EU's population and 65% of its arable land, according to Greenpeace, which assembled the data.
Commission must 'hit the pause button' on GMO approvals
Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: "A clear majority of the EU's governments are rejecting the Commission's drive for GM crop approvals. They don't trust EU safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food.
"The only way to restore trust in the EU system now is for the Commission to hit the pause button on GM crop approvals and to urgently reform safety testing and the approval system."
In July 2014, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Commission should not be able to force through GM crops against a majority of EU countries: "[I] would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so." However the Commission is yet to deliver a legislative proposal that can achieve this.
A revised EU risk assessment scheme, called for by EU environment ministers in 2008, has similarly not been implemented. Current risk assessments by the EU's food safety authority also ignore EU rules in place since 2001 (Directive 2001/18) for more in-depth and independent testing of GM crops.
The bans currently notified apply to the only GM crop currently approved for cultivation in Europe - Monsanto's pesticide-producing GM maize, known as MON810 - but also to the seven GM crops awaiting approval by the Commission. These are all GM maizes.
Nine EU countries (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland) had previously banned cultivation of MON810 under so-called safeguard clauses.
A final rush to the bar?
With most of the EU by population and by arable production area now closed to GM crop cultivation, further countries may see which way the wind is blowing and make a last minute scramble to join the GM opt out.
Greenpeace's EU office, which has been keeping close track on the moves to ban GMOs, says it expects even more to follow by the 3 October deadline for notifications to the EU.
Even countries that are not strongly opposed to GM cultivation may decide to join the ban simply in order to be on the majority side. This makes perfect sense as despite the principle of the 'single European market' food producers in GM-free countries may well discriminate against imports from GM-growing countries.
Moreover it's always possible to give up the GM-free status at a future date, should countries decide to do so. But once the registration window closes on Saturday, it's too late for doubters to change their minds and register.
But in fact, companies selling GM seeds are not obligated to comply. Under EU Directive 2015/412, governments can ask biotech companies whose GM crops have already been authorised for cultivation in the EU, or are pending approval, not to market their crops on their territory.
However The companies - Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer - can then accept or refuse these opt-outs, without having to justify their response. Governments can also legislate to ban individual or groups of GM crops approved in the EU. The Commission list of notifications for national bans.
Principal source: Greenpeace.