The European Union is to radically overhaul its approval system for genetically modified (GM) crops from next month, opening the way to large-scale GM cultivation in Europe, draft proposals showed.
With most Europeans showing no appetite for GM produce in food, EU politicians have approved just two varieties for growing in 12 years, compared with more than 150 worldwide.
Under proposals due to be adopted on July 13, the EU executive commission will be given greater freedom to approve new GM varieties for cultivation in return for letting EU governments decide whether or not to grow them.
Commercial GM planting in Europe last year covered less than 100,000 hectares, mostly in Spain, compared with 134 million hectares globally.
The plan is likely to see an increase in commercial planting in countries already using GM technology, such as Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic, while legally endorsing existing GM bans in countries including Italy, Austria and Hungary.
But critics said the proposals could spark internal market disputes within Europe, and leave the EU open to legal challenges in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which backed a U. S. complaint in 2006 that the EU’s GM policy was unscientific.
The commission proposal has two main elements, the drafts showed.
The first is an interim measure designed to quickly introduce the changes, which will see the commission issue new guidelines to member states on the “coexistence” of GM and non-GM cultivation.
These would allow countries to set their own technical standards for GM farming.
The second is a “restricted amendment” to current EU legislation on the release of GM organisms in the environment, that would allow countries to ban GM cultivation altogether for reasons other than safety or coexistence grounds.