by Keith Taylor MEP – The Ecologist, 11 November 2014
An attempt by the UK’s Conservative Party and its allies to force countries to allow EU-approved GMO crops has been defeated by the European Parliament, writes Keith Taylor. Instead MEPs voted to strengthen the national GMO opt-out. But the UK still has a battle to fight against its avidly pro-GMO government.
he European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted today to amend proposed rules on the approval of ‘Genetically Modified Organism’ (GMO) crops.
And I’m pleased to say that we – the Green Group and other progressive MEPs – won the day.
Under the new scheme for the authorisation of GMOs in the EU, member states or regions will be able to opt-out completely from GMOs for environmental reasons – even if those varieties have already been approved for cultivation by the European Commission and the European Food and Safety Authority.
What we had before – recipe for chaos and lawsuits
Last June the European Council announced a plan that would devolve decisions on GMOs to member states, granting countries a limited right to opt out of growing GMOs.
But the plan was fatally flawed – any opt out would only have lasted for two years, could have been challenged under the EU’s ‘single market’ guidelines, and would require countries to strike a deal with GMO companies, effectively asking their permission.
Green MEPs warned of the consequences, arguing that this move risked opening the door to far greater GMO use, in spite of widespread public opposition.
Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of The Earth also warned that by ultimately granting member states the final say on GMOs, the EU was paving the way for corporate lobbying from the likes of Monsanto, who have a 90% monopoly over the industry.
As Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said at the time, “It would still leave those countries that want to say ‘no’ to GMOs exposed to legal attacks of the biotech industry.”
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, added his voice to the protests. “This proposal is a poisoned chalice that fails to give member states solid legal grounds to ban genetically modified crops”, he warned.
“If this law is passed, more GM crops could be allowed in Europe, dramatically increasing the risk of contamination of our food and farming.”
The Tory solution – remove the national opt out altogether
But then it got even worse. The Commission’s latest plan, supported by the UK Conservative Party and its allies in the ‘European Conservatives and Reformists’ group, would have prevented EU countries from opting out of GMOs at all.
Which is a bit odd, as the Tories are meant to be all about promoting ‘subsidiarity’ – devolving powers to member states – wherever possible. Except, apparently, where that would mean challenging the GMO industry!
I welcome the result of today’s vote as there is definitely a need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. The current system allows authorisations to proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments, and against the consistent opposition of a clear majority of EU citizens.
And as a Green member of the European Parliament, I believe that EU states and regions should be allowed to say ‘NO’ to GMOs if their citizens don’t want them.
It’s a victory – but the fight goes on
While today’s vote represents valuable progress, many of the concerns voiced earlier remain valid, and it remains to be seen how the detail of the new GMO legislation will play out.
With EU governments having taken very different positions on GMOs, further negotiations must now take place to conclude the legislative process. The proposals foresee a streamlined decision-making process for EU GMO approvals, with the possibility for member states or regions to opt-out.
But the answer cannot be to make authorisations easier, enabling the Commission to force through swifter EU-level authorisations of this controversial technology.
The European Parliament must now fight tooth and nail to maintain the position the Parliament vored on today, or the new proposal for EU GMO approvals may become a Trojan horse.
For example, although the grounds on which member states or regions can introduce national bans has been strengthened, concerns remain about their legal certainty – and whether allowing member states the ‘right to choose’ on GMOs is just leaving the door wide open for the GM industry.
Moreover GMOs growing in one country could easily contaminate fields in another on the other side of a land border. And with its avid pro-GMO stance I expect to see a rise in British GMO permissions.
Ultimately, GMOs must be banned
Despite lobbying from the GM industry, I remain very concerned that the mixing of genes involved in the often haphazard genetic ‘engineering’ process interferes with the process of evolution.
Strong evidence of the safety of GM food still doesn’t seem to exist, no matter how much Monsanto insists that nothing can go wrong and only GMOs can ‘feed the world’.
In fact, I believe that GM crops actually present a danger to the world’s future food supplies by restricting the choice of seeds and creating a dangerous genetic uniformity in our main food crops.
Three years on from when these discussions began, this is now the challenge for MEPs. And because GM contaminates other crops, once we start growing it on a mass scale there may be no way back.
If we are going to provide food for the Earth’s growing population in a time of climate chaos, then small-scale and ideally organic farming is the answer – not Monsanto-dominated unsafe GMO agriculture.
That’s why I will continue to work with my Green colleagues in Europe to push towards an outright ban on GMO crops across the entire EU.
Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England.