GM crops: EU parliament backs national bans

GM maize growing in France - file pic Planting of GM crops is tightly controlled in the EU

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Euro MPs have voted to give EU member states more flexibility to restrict or ban genetically modified crops on environmental or health grounds.

The draft legislation, still to be discussed by EU governments, would enable countries to go beyond the EU-wide mechanism for regulating GM crops.

Arguments about the safety of GM foods continue in many of the EU's 27 states.

The EU Commission had proposed that the EU should decide on approvals or bans on environmental or health grounds.

Currently a type of maize called MON 810 is the only GM food cultivated commercially in the EU.

But not everywhere - it is banned in six EU states: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

A report approved by MEPs on Tuesday says member states "may adopt measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of all or particular GMOs [genetically modified organisms], in all or part of their territory, on the basis of grounds relating to the public interest.

"Those measures may be based on grounds relating to environmental or other legitimate factors such as socio-economic impacts."

EU controls to remain

The report is an amendment to a European Commission proposal for new legislation on GMOs.

The MEPs' report argued that granting more flexibility to member states on the issue would not undermine the EU-level assessments.

The report also called for a firmer legal basis to ensure that "the polluter pays for unintended effects or damage that might occur due to the deliberate release or the placing on the market of GMOs".

Apart from MON 810, a GM type of potato called Amflora has also been authorised in the EU, but it is harvested for industrial starch.

Supporters of GM crops argue that they deliver higher yields and resistance to pests, requiring less fertiliser and pesticides.

Opponents say more scientific data is needed, arguing that their long-term genetic impact on humans and wildlife could be harmful.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe welcomed the MEPs' vote, calling it "a clear signal from MEPs that they are on the side of the majority of European citizens who oppose GM crops".

The European Association for Bioindustries, EuropaBio, meanwhile criticised "political voting" on the issue in Europe, saying the MEPs' stance was "disappointing".

"If member states can opt out of a product approval system simply because of political preference, without any scientific reasoning, the result will be more uncertainty and less choice for farmers," said a EuropaBio director, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas.

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