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These fields of oilseed rape / canola near Avebury, Wiltshire, England, could soon be GMO if the EU deal is approved next week. Photo: *Bettina* via Flickr.
These fields of oilseed rape / canola near Avebury, Wiltshire, England, could soon be GMO if the EU deal is approved next week. Photo: *Bettina* via Flickr.
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Deceitful compromise clears the way for GMO crops in Europe

Lawrence Woodward

31st May 2014

An unholy alliance of pro- and anti-GMO countries have struck a deal that will sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the EU, writes Lawrence Woodward.

With a very weak premise and legal grounds, the proposal may in fact be instrumental allowing numerous new GMO crops for cultivation in the EU.

An unholy alliance of pro- and anti-GMO countries have struck a deal that will sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the EU.

By allowing - under limited circumstance - individual member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, the European Commission expects to boost GMO cropping in the EU overall.

An indicative vote of Member State representatives taken in a closed meeting this week indicated near unanimous support for the proposal which is being promoted by Greece - the current holders of the EU Presidency.

A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on the 12th June. If agreed - as seems likely - it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.

The significance of this move is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU.

The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.

An unholy alliance

Just how bizarre and ludicrous the deal is can be seen by the member state responses;

Pro -GMO Britain hopes it will allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU: "This proposal should help unblock the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops for cultivation", said UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson

Anti-GMO France welcomed the deal as "good news". It has recently imposed a domestic ban on GMO maize (corn).

Germany - which doesn't seem to know where it is on the issue these days; whose abstention cleared the way for EU approval; and whose Ministers have been quoted as saying they wanted to break the EU logjam - praised the deal, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.

"The viewpoint of the people in Europe differs greatly on this matter and this earns respect", German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt said in a statement.

He has a strange concept of respect. No-one outside of the Brussels bubble has a good word to say about the deal.

Widespread criticism

Environmental campaigners say it gives too much power to corporations.

The EU's Green Parties say it is a "misleading proposal" which only"pretends to give Member States more freedom to ban GMOs on their territory. With a very weak premise and legal grounds, the proposal may in fact be instrumental allowing numerous new GMO crops for cultivation in the EU."

The GM industry is also unhappy with the deal. They say it could allow crops to be banned on "non-scientific grounds" and undermines the Single Market.

"To renationalize a common policy, based on non-objective grounds, is a negative precedent and contrary to the spirit of the single market", said André Goig, Chair of EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries.

Trouble in the UK

In fact an earlier version of the proposal put forward by the Danish Presidency several years ago was rejected by a number of Member States on the grounds that it was legally incompatible with the Single Market.

The UK robustly held that position but GMO zealot Owen Paterson has allowed his pro-GMO views to win out this time.

We wonder how closely UK lawyers have looked at the tortuous contortions the proposal contains in order to pretend that the Single Market can remain intact when significantly different rules will be enacted in various member states.

How the non-GMO cropping commitments of Wales and Scotland are going to be met and justified politically and legally is a particularly difficult issue.

Deceit and self deception

The deal rests on self deception and a readiness to deceive the citizens and stakeholders of the EU.

The proposal contains a number of elements which are questionable and open to challenge:

  • Before banning an approved GMO crop Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory
  • If the companies refuse Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk
  • These Members State specific grounds for a ban can include things like protection of Nature Reserves and areas vulnerable to contamination; but they can also include socio-economic impacts


The deception at the heart of the proposal is that these grounds will be wide-ranging and legally defensible against a challenge from industry, the WTO and a range of stakeholders.

It is almost certainly the case that if they are wide-ranging enough to satisfy the EU's GMO sceptic citizens they will not be restrictive enough to withstand a legal challenge and vice versa.

The heart of the matter

Much has been made by campaigners of the requirement to seek approval for GMO companies.

But this is not the major and most critical problem.  

There are two fundamental problems which this proposal fails to address:

  • The weaknesses in the EU's GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA).
  • The failure to implement an EU wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime. To date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence.


As it stands this deal is a messy and unprincipled compromise which could lead to the kind of devastation of the EU countryside and food system that genetic engineering and the unrestrained activities of GMO companies has brought on the US.

 


 

Lawrence Woodward is a campaigner and educator on the use of GMOs in food and agriculture, and founder of GM Education.

This article was originally published on GM Education.

Sources

 


 

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