The EU's Environment Council voted today to devolve GMO decisions to member states – in effect allowing pro-GM governments to go ahead. This messy compromise threatens to allow GMO corporations to ride roughshod over Europe.

The European Union Environment Council today voted to allow member countries to grow GM crops on a devolved basis.

The UK supported the proposal, and is certain to be one of the first countries to press ahead with GM crop plantings – at least in England, where Agriculture is under the control of the strongly pro-GM environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Two varieties of 'Roundup-Ready' GM maize – resistant to the herbicide glyphosate – are poised to be approved for cultivation in the UK.

However environment groups remain fiercely opposed to the introduction of herbicide resistant crops, due to the huge increases in herbicide use that follow – as seen in the USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina – and the toxic herbicide residues that remain in the harvested food.

Now they are pinning their hopes on the European Parliament, which still has the power to block the move.

Political deadlock 'broken'

Following the vote EU Commissioner Borg said: "I am delighted to announce that the Environment Council has just broken the deadlock on the GMO cultivation proposal and has reached a political agreement that moves towards a new legal basis giving Member States the choice to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory.

"Today's political agreement meets Member States' consistent calls since 2009 to have more flexibility and legal certainty for national decisions on cultivation on their territory or part of their territory."

Under the rules, only GM varieties approved by the EU can be approved at national level, and even if varieties are approved at EU level, member states can opt out of growing them. However this power is limited – according to the Commission,

"After authorisation of the GMO, the Member States' opt out measures have to be based on a wide range of reasons such as: environmental or agricultural policy objectives, town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, avoidance of GMO presence in other products, or public policy, to name a few."

A 'deeply flawed proposal'

GM Freeze Director Liz O'Neill commented: "EU Environment Ministers have waved through a deeply flawed proposal to the next stage because Owen Paterson and friends think it's more important to get GM crops into the ground than to protect people's right to say 'No'.

"The legal basis for so called 'national opt-outs' is questionable at best, and even if a country or region does manage to establish a ban they will find it very difficult to protect their fields and food from contamination if their neighbours start growing GM.

"Farmers, food producers and consumers should all be able to choose GM-free without fear of contamination. We trust that MEPs will listen to the concerns of their constituents when they get a chance to vote on this dangerous proposal."

Can devolution work for GMOs?

GM Freeze also questions whether devolution is actually possible, as a result of cross field and cross border contamination of GMO and non-GMO seed and pollen, and accidental seed mixing.

In their briefing, released earlier this month, the pressure group argues: "Any acceleration in GM crop approvals and uptake will occur in a context of limited, weak or absent coexistence regulations.

"Contrary to the usual Polluter Pays principle applied in other industries, there is no liability regime identifying who is accountable for the damage caused by GM contamination."

It also argues that the proposal "undermines democratic decision making by requiring Member States to negotiate with GM companies with a clear conflict of interest in banning their own crops."

Furthermore for member states to forgo the use of specific GMO crops, once approved at EU level, "All options require the indefinite acquiescence of GM companies, among others, to have any legal surety.

"This means that Member States wishing to ban any authorised GM crop do not have any meaningful assurance that such measures would not at some point be challenged in the courts or under international trade agreements."

A deceitful, messy and unprincipled compromise

The move was presaged in The Ecologist two weeks ago when Lawrence Woodward denounced the direction being taken in 'Deceitful compromise clears the way for GMO crops in Europe':

"This deal is a messy and unprincipled compromise which could lead to the kind of devastation of the EU countryside and food system that genetic engineering and the unrestrained activities of GMO companies has brought on the US."

Originally Published: The Ecologist