The European Commission is to draw up a list of permissible reasons that national governments can cite to ban the growing of genetically-modified crops from its territory, John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, told ministers today (20 December).
The legal robustness of the GM proposal has become a sore point between the European Commission and member states, as the European Union thrashes out how to reform its system for approving GM crops for cultivation.
The European Commission wants to give more freedom to national governments to decide whether or not to grow GM crops, in a bid to repair the deadlocked approval system, in which repeated failure to reach consensus has resulted in only two crops being licensed for planting in 12 years. Under the Commission’s proposal, national governments could ban GM crops, as long as they do not base their decision on health or environmental grounds. But national governments opposed to GM crops fear that this limited get-out clause would leave them exposed to legal challenges from other countries. These worries have been reinforced by a recent opinion from the legal service of the Council, which damned the Commission’s proposal as being contrary to World Trade Organization rules and the EU’s own single market.
In a public discussion today, delegations on both sides of the GM debate called for more legal certainty, including such ‘pro’-GM countries as Spain, and such ‘anti’-countries as Poland.
Although the Commission was initially reluctant to spell out the reasons available for member states to use to ban GM crops, the idea was discussed in October. Today Dalli promised ministers that he would draw up “a list of possible grounds – such as ethical concerns, societal or traditional factors” before the next meeting of national experts on 11 February. He also defended the Commission’s proposal against the Council lawyers’ “negative tone” and insisted that it was legally correct.
At the meeting, several countries, including Bulgaria and Greece, referred to public opposition to growing GM crops. “The population as a whole rejects this idea,” said Greece’s representative.
At the end of the discussion, Dalli noted that many governments wanted to ban GM crops because of public concerns, rather than science, he said. The Commission was, he said, trying to reflect that with its proposals, which sought to bring sense to “the individual fragmented way in which member states are dealing with this”.
Several ministers called on the Commission to implement a set of instructions that they had issued in December 2008, including a request for a report on the socio-economic implications of placing GM crops on the market. France, which was in the EU’s presidency chair when these Council conclusions were unanimously agreed, has been particularly annoyed about slow progress.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France’s environment minister, told the meeting that France did not want to discuss the proposal until “significant and clear progress” was made on the December 2008 conclusions. Poland wanted to stop discussions entirely, because it believes that the proposal is against WTO and EU rules.
However, these countries failed to stop discussions continuing. Dalli promised that the socio-economic report would be ready in “early 2011”. But he insisted that it would not change discussions on the cultivation proposal. The report is based on information from member states, which he described as “a mixture of facts and perceptions, which vary widely from country to country and even within countries, in line with national positions on GMOs”.
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