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EU to Examine National Opt-Outs for GM Crop Growing

Jeremy Smith

Activists fly a kite to protest against the cultivation of genetically modified maize. (AFP)

BRUSSELS - Eleven European Union countries will call next week for the right to opt-outs for growing genetically modified (GM) crops, to cut through complex EU decision-making and end years of stalemate on biotech policy.

The suggestion, to be floated at a meeting of EU environment ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday, would be for governments to restrict cultivation of specific GM crop types if they saw fit.

Even though there will be no decisions taken, the paper authored by the 11 countries is certain to spark a debate on Europe's GM policy. The European Commission, the EU's executive, has already started a review of the two main biotech approvals laws: on cultivation, and imports of GM food and feed products.

The paper was co-written by Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and the Netherlands.

"Given the unsatisfactory situation and the negative attitude toward GMOs of large parts of the population in many member states, time has come to find a new approach to deal with the authorisation and use of GMOs in agriculture," it said. "The legally soundest solution we envisage is a set of minor amendments of relevant EU legislation, which should introduce the right of an individual member state to restrict or prohibit indefinitely the cultivation of authorised GMOs on its territory," said the paper, obtained by Reuters.

It would be straightforward to formulate such an 'opt-out' in legal terms and integrate into existing EU laws, it said.



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The 11 countries also suggested drawing up a list of socio-economic criteria that national governments could use to "prohibit or regulate" GM crop cultivation on their entire territory, or certain defined areas of it.

But before then, EU environment ministers should consider options which "could enable national self-determination for cultivation, without changing the general authorisation procedure for placing GMOs and products thereof on the market."

At present, any EU license for import or cultivation of a GM product is for a 10-year period and always applies across all the bloc's 27 member countries.

Even though EU law provides under certain strict conditions for a country to restrict GM crop cultivation or GM product imports, authorisation licenses are valid across the bloc -- in accordance with the principles of the single EU internal market.

However, only one GM crop may be grown at present, a maize type developed by U.S. company Monsanto. That has frustrated many pro-biotech EU states, as well as industry, which are keen to see far more European GMO authorizations.

But in practice, to change the EU's strict rules on regulating the internal market would be extremely difficult, diplomats say. It would probably involve EU finance ministers and ruffle the feathers of a number of EU governments.

The European Union has long been split on GM policy and its member states consistently clash over whether to approve new varieties for import -- but without ever reaching a conclusion.

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