EU Aims to Compromise on GM Crops

The European Union is to apply the principle of “subsidiarity” and allow individual member states a greater say on the regulation of GM Crops. The move will allow member states to decide whether or not GM crop varieties can be grown or used for food and feed on their territories.  The European Commission will still carry out centralized approvals, however individual member states will be allowed to opt out, provided present a valid justification, which does not conflict with risk assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority. This move has followed years of deadlock and controversy as EU members have sought to find a common position on whether to adopt new biotech crop varieties.

The EU lags behind much of the World in terms of GM crops, despite 58 GM crop varieties being approved for feed and food use in the European Union, only one is grown widely – Monsanto’s maize MON810 in Spain and Portugal. The biotech industry and the United States heavily have criticised the EU for the slow pace of approvals of new varieties, the lack of any clear and transparent procedure, and an alleged lack of science based decision-making.

The proposals could also see differences of approaches between and within member states, for example in the UK, the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales are likely to maintain bans on growing commercial GM crops in their countries, whereas DEFRA is currently more likely to allow the cultivation of commercial GM crops within England.

Some farming organisations have already voiced concern about maintaining a level playing field, NFU Scotland has already branded the proposals as “Unworkable”, citing concerns that increased regulations will wreak havoc on existing trade relationships, undermine competitiveness across Europe and drive up costs for those producers affected. The EU is not self-sufficient in protein feed for animals – of which 90% of imports of soyabean meal being GM, and restricting supplies could have significant detrimental impacts on the livestock sector.

The move will also be a real sticking point in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the United States, which is likely to insist that the EU fully opens up its market to US biotech products.

The move has also not silenced critics of the technology, who claim that the proposals do not properly provide a legal basis to allow member states to opt out of approvals, and they could be open to legal action from biotech companies. Greenpeace has stated the policy will still allow the EU Commission to authorize the import of GM products, even when national governments and the European parliament oppose them.

These changes are likely to have little impact initially, however as the sector develops, and more new varieties are submitted to approval, significant differences could emerge between EU countries, and approaches within the single market. Barriers to trade within the single market could emerge, and it may also make it more difficult for the EU to achieve trade agreements with third countries.