Brian Gardner's Blog

The European Commission has now clearly given up on any further attempt to apply a rational, scientifically-based policy to the regulation of the development and commercial use of genetically modified crops. Its announcement that it is proposing to grant individual member states the right to decide for themselves whether to allow their farmers to grow engineered crops, effectively marks the end of a long-running struggle by EU legislators to achieve a common policy on the issue.

Member state governments will, if the proposal passes into law, be able to operate their own policies. This means that GM crops will be banned in some EU countries while being permitted in others. The regulation of the marketing of the product of these crops will become fiendishly difficult, with new (largely ineffective) import barriers being erected between the GM liberals and the banners.

In theory, under current EU legalisation, member states are only allowed to restrict genetically modified (GM) crop cultivation under strict conditions , in accordance with single market principles. In practice, a minority of member states operate total bans on the basis of the Treaty’s special safeguard rule which allows banning the use of or sale of any product on public health or safety grounds. Austria, Hungary, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg operate such bans. While the Commission says that the amendment of the GM legislation will not allow MS to ban imports, it is likely that these countries wil again resort to the safeguard clause to achieve this objective.

Needless to say this Commission announcement pleases no one. The most surprising, if not breathtaking, reaction comes from the green lobbies who are largely responsible for the current legislative fog which now clouds the issue across the twenty seven EU countries. “Individual bans cannot replace a scientifically sound EU-level safety procedure, GM contamination does not stop at national borders.”, chirped a Greenpeace spokesperson. Quite right. But it should not be forgotten that the opposition to the use of GM material in the banning minority of countries is largely a response to the lobbying of Greenpeace and others of a similar anti-science view and is directly responsible for the Commission’s clear abandonment of any attempt to maintain harmonised EU regulation.

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