European Parliament Approves EU Countries’ Right to Ban GMO Crops

January 14, 2015 Updated: January 15, 2015

The European Parliament passed legislation Tuesday that allows European countries to restrict or ban the cultivation of crops that have been genetically modified (GM).

“This directive is in response to Europeans’ growing concerns about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms),” said Frédérique Ries, a member of the European Parliament from Belgium and the one pushing the legislation through the European Parliament.

“This agreement will ensure more flexibility for member states, who wish to restrict the cultivation of the GMOs in their territory.”

The new law will allow countries to ban GMO crops, but they will still have to go through a risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before they can be put on the European Union market.

MON810 maize, a kind of corn, is currently the only genetically modified crop cultivated in the European Union, and it is only grown in five countries.

Nine countries had GMO bans, but their bans were superseded by the European Union-level approval of GMO crops. This means that, until this legislation, countries that wanted to ban GMOs, could not, and faced legal cases if they tried.

Creating an EU-level policy on the cultivation of GM crops started in 2009. The issue has polarized the EU—on one side are countries who say GMOs threaten European’s health, the environment, and the high quality of EU food, while on the other side countries argue if the GM crops are approved at the EU level, they should be safe enough to be grown anywhere in the EU, and failing to do so threatens the EU unified market.

Banning GMOs

European countries would not be able to ban the cultivation of GMOs for environmental or health reasons if the crops were approved by the EFSA, according to the new law.

However, they could ban GM crops for other reasons, such as town and country planning requirements, their socio-economic impact, avoiding the unintended presence of GMOs in other products, and national farming rules.

On this first point, Greenpeace expressed concern because “the new law will not provide countries with a legally solid right to ban GM crops.” It warned that excluding environmental concerns from the list of reasons to ban GM crops could have “serious consequences.”

The new law states countries should ensure that GMO crops do not contaminate other products, especially to prevent cross-border contamination with neighboring countries. However there is no funding to compensate farmers if their crops are contaminated.

“I hope that when the legislation is updated, there will be an obligation to compensate farmers who are affected by this,” Reis said.

The new rules only cover cultivation of GMOs, not transportation, sale, or research. Large quantities of animal feed containing GMOs are still imported into the EU.

The new legislation will still need to be approved by the European Council, and if it does, is expected to enter into effect in the spring of 2015.

Countries that Formerly Banned GM Crops:

  • Austria
  • France
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • Bulgaria
  • Luxembourg

Countries that Grow GM crops:

  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • The Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Romania