Majority of EU Member States Opt Out of GM Crop Cultivation



Dear Friends and Colleagues 

Majority of EU Member States Opt Out of GM Crop Cultivation 

The majority of the 28 member states in the European Union (EU) have opted-out of GM crop cultivation (Item 1). They are: Austria Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.  

In addition, Belgium and the United Kingdom have asked for part of their territories to be excluded from GM crop cultivation; the territories concerned are the Wallonia region, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively. Germany’s opt-out excludes locations where GM crops are grown for research purposes.

The right for EU member states to opt out of GM cultivation, even if approved at EU level, was agreed in March 2015. Directive (EU) 2015/412 amends Directive 2001/18/EC as regards the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory.

The opt-outs apply to the only GM crop presently approved for cultivation in Europe; Monsanto’s GM maize called MON810 (grown in Spain and Portugal), as well as seven GM maize events awaiting approval (Item 2).  They collectively account for about two-thirds of the EU’s arable cropland and population.   

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Item 1 


Lorraine Chow
October 5, 2015 

The final tally of the massive European anti-GMO wave has been reached now that the Oct. 3 deadline to notify the European Commission has passed. A total of 19 EU countries have “opted out” of growing genetically modified (GMOs) crops within all or part of their territories. 

These governments have taken the “opt-out” clause of a European Commission rule passed in March that allows its 28-member bloc to abstain from growing GMO crops, even if they are already authorized to be grown within the union. 

According to Reuters, the member states specifically targeted the cultivation of Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, the only GMO crop grown in Europe (just in Spain and Portugal), and is currently under review at the European level. 

A European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio confirmed to Reuters that the 19 countries opting out are: Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region, Britain for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. 

As RT noted, Belgium and the UK are applying the opt-out rule for only part of their territories, while Germany requested a partial opt-out in order to pursue more GMO research. 

Companies have been notified of the members’ requests and have one month to react to the decisions. 

Although GMOs are widely grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe. Many of EU countries have strict laws against GMOs out of public health and environmental concerns, and all 28 nations require GMO labeling. 

With this latest news, it looks like many European countries want to deal with this contentious issue within their own borders. “As the number of requests from member states shows, national governments are now using this legislation to have a greater say on cultivation on their respective territories,” the EU’s executive arm in Brussels said in a statement on Sunday. 

Many environmental groups have applauded the national GMO crop bans. “A clear majority of the EU’s governments are rejecting the Commission’s drive for GMO crop approvals,” Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said in a statement last week.  

Item 2 


The Ecologist 

Fifteen EU states have now joined the GM-free movement as the 3rd October deadline for registration nears, along with four regions. They collectively account for 65% of the EU’s arable cropland, and 65% of its population, and Greenpeace expects more to sign up. 

In the latest blow to the European Commission’s laissez-faire approach to GM crops, at least 15 EU countries and four regions (in two other countries) are in the process of banning the cultivation of GM crops on their territories. 

As of today, 1st October, ten EU countries (Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland). 

In addition four regional administrations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium – have formally notified the Commission of their intention to ban GM crop cultivation under new EU rules. 

Statements by governments to the media also inform of impending notifications by five additional countries – Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. This brings the total number of countries who have already declared their intention to put in place GM crop bans to 15. 

The 15 countries and four regions represent 65% of the EU’s population and 65% of its arable land, according to Greenpeace, which assembled the data. 

Commission must ‘hit the pause button’ on GMO approvals 

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “A clear majority of the EU’s governments are rejecting the Commission’s drive for GM crop approvals. They don’t trust EU safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food. The only way to restore trust in the EU system now is for the Commission to hit the pause button on GM crop approvals and to urgently reform safety testing and the approval system.” 

In July 2014, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Commission should not be able to force through GM crops against a majority of EU countries: “[I] would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so.” However the Commission is yet to deliver a legislative proposal that can achieve this. 

A revised EU risk assessment scheme, called for by EU environment ministers in 2008, has similarly not been implemented. Current risk assessments by the EU’s food safety authority also ignore EU rules in place since 2001 (Directive 2001/18) for more in-depth and independent testing of GM crops. 

The bans currently notified apply to the only GM crop currently approved for cultivation in Europe – Monsanto’s pesticide-producing GM maize, known as MON810 – but also to the seven GM crops awaiting approval by the Commission. These are all GM maizes.

Nine EU countries (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland) had previously banned cultivation of MON810 under so-called safeguard clauses. 

A final rush to the bar? 

With most of the EU by population and by arable production area now closed to GM crop cultivation, further countries may see which way the wind is blowing and make a last minute scramble to join the GM opt out. 

Greenpeace’s EU office, which has been keeping close track on the moves to ban GMOs, says it expects even more to follow by the 3 October deadline for notifications to the EU.

Even countries that are not strongly opposed to GM cultivation may decide to join the ban simply in order to be on the majority side. This makes perfect sense as despite the principle of the ‘single European market’ food producers in GM-free countries may well discriminate against imports from GM-growing countries. 

Moreover it’s always possible to give up the GM-free status at a future date, should countries decide to do so. But once the registration window closes on Saturday, it’s too late for doubters to change their minds and register.  

But in fact, companies selling GM seeds are not obligated to comply. Under EU Directive 2015/412, governments can ask biotech companies whose GM crops have already been authorised for cultivation in the EU, or are pending approval, not to market their crops on their territory.  

However the companies – Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer – can then accept or refuse these opt-outs, without having to justify their response. Governments can also legislate to ban individual or groups of GM crops approved in the EU. The Commission list of notifications for national bans.  


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