Britain has become the latest European Union country to raise serious doubts over proposals to let EU governments decide individually whether to grow or ban genetically modified (GM) crops.
Several large EU countries including France, Germany and Spain have already criticized draft legislation tabled by the EU executive in July, which would allow governments to restrict or ban GM cultivation in all or part of their territories.
Speaking at an EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels March 10, Britain’s Farm Minister Caroline Spelman questioned whether the proposals would do anything to unblock the EU approval system for GM crops, which has seen just two varieties approved for growing in more than a decade.
“The operation of the EU decision-making progress does need to be improved, but we’re not convinced that the proposal will enable this to happen,” Spelman told the other ministers.
A British diplomat said that while there is still no commonly agreed government position on the proposals, ministers feared that the legislation could make things more difficult for countries like the U.K. that want to press ahead with research into GM crops.
EU government legal experts have questioned whether national GM crop bans provided for in the European Commission’s proposals would be compatible with the bloc’s global trade commitments.
Spelman agreed that any bans under the proposals were unlikely to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and the EU’s own Lisbon Treaty, or stand up to legal challenges from biotech companies, farmers or non-EU countries.
The British minister also questioned a draft list of reasons that governments could use to justify cultivation bans, such as to maintain public order, which the commission drew up in response to requests from skeptical governments.