France wins greater control over GMOs, but comes under fire from Greens

EU member states have finally agreed on a European law for the authorisation process of GMOs. This decision, which has been in the pipeline for years, has come under fire from French ecologists.

EU member states have agreed on the sensitive issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO), opting for greater national control over authorising or bannning GMO cultivation.

During an Environment Council meeting in Luxembourg on 12 June, the 28 EU ministers agreed on a policy allowing national governments to ban or restrict GMO within the whole or part of their borders.

A report will be presented at the European Commission on the use and efficiency of the directive after the four years of implementation.

The Council's decision is the first step towards reforming the authorisation process of GMOs, which has divided European opinion for years.

Up until now, decisions on the authorisation of GMOs were taken by the European Commission, because member states could not agree by a qualified majority on the issue.

No consensus between member states

Countries like France, which are adamantly opposed to GMOs, have agreed with pro-GMO countries like Spain and the UK.

As the countries could not find a consensus, the EU Commission authorised the use of GMOs. This was also granted under the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and aimed to prevent run-ins with the European Court of Justice. In response to the Commission’s choice, anti-GMO countries took national measures to ban them, which were incompatible with EU rules.

Victory for Paris?

The political agreement is good news for the French government, which has been calling for Brussels to bring about reforms for months.

In February, Stéphane Le Foll, the French Minister of Agriculture, submitted a proposal to his European counterparts aimed at increasing national control of the GMO authorisation processes. This offensive was launched just days after France failed to prevent Brussels from approving genetically modified corn called TC 1507.

"The agreement is the result of months of debates in which France strived for member states to have more power in GMO authorisation processes, and also to increase the judicial security of state decisions if they choose to oppose the cultivation of GMOs," said the French government in a communiqué.

Under fire

Although the agreement ends the deadlock, "renationalisation" of GMO-related decision-making was not a unanimous decision.

"The French government, by accepting this proposal on the authorisation of GMO cultivation instead of being fervent opposition to GMOs, has allowed European fields to cultivate genetically engineered crops," said the French delegation for the European Greens in a press release.

According to the Greens, the agreement undermines European norms. "From now on, multinational biotechnology companies will discuss directly with states and negotiate the conditions of putting their products on the market," added the delegation.

"Accepting the possibility of banning GMOs on such a fragile basis is a fool's bargain and leaves the door open for contaminating European agriculture," said Corine Lepage, an outgoing French MEP.

Not all the dye has been cast, though. The Council's agreement must be officially adopted so that negotiations can commence with the newly-elected European Parliament, which will have to vote on the proposal.

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