WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Nineteen E.U. member states have decided to “opt-out” of genetically modified (GM) crop cultivation in all or part of their territories, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Oct. 13.
An E.U. directive that allows E.U. member states to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) plants in their respective territories for non-scientific reasons was adopted in March 2015. Under the transitional measures, the member states had until Oct. 3 to request to be excluded from the geographical scope of the authorizations already granted or in the pipeline. Nineteen countries have decided to “opt-out” of GM crops cultivation for all or part of their territories. These decisions will not lead to a change in the field, since none of the five European countries that currently grow GM corn are opting out, the USDA said.
Before this directive was released, it was possible for E.U. member states to ban the cultivation of GM plants on the basis of the safeguard clause or of the emergency measures, provided that new scientific evidence suggested that such cultivation could be harmful to the environment, or human or animal health. Several E.U. countries have imposed national cultivation bans on this basis, but the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has determined that these bans were not justified by scientific evidence. The European Commission has allowed the bans to continue despite the EFSA determinations.
With this E.U. directive, the European Commission has sought a means by which member states could legally opt out of cultivating approved GM plants. The member states that want to restrict or prohibit GM crops cultivation on their territories have two options:
Option 1: During the authorization procedure, a member state may ask to amend the geographical scope of the application to exclude part of or all its territory. The manufacturer of the GM plant has 30 days to adjust or confirm the scope of its application. Member states are allowed to ask for their territory to be reintegrated into the geographical scope of the authorization after the authorization has been granted.
Option 2: After a GM variety has been authorized for cultivation in the E.U., a member state may adopt national opt-out measures, by invoking grounds such as environmental or agricultural policy objectives, town and country-planning, land use, coexistence, socio-economic impacts, or public policy.
These opt-out measures may restrict or ban the cultivation of a GM variety or of a group of GM varieties defined by crop or trait. Under the transitional measures, the member states had until Oct. 3 to implement option 1 for GM plants already granted approval or in the pipeline. The only GM plant approved for cultivation in the E.U. is MON810 Bt corn, an insect-resistant corn. It is grown in five E.U. countries. Seven other varieties of corn are currently in the pipeline. Seventeen countries and four regions in two countries (Wallonia in Belgium; Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in the U.K.) have decided to implement option 1. All of them have decided to ban the cultivation of MON810 and of the seven varieties of corn that are in the pipeline, apart from Denmark and Luxembourg that have only banned MON810 and three from the seven varieties in the pipeline.
These decisions will not lead to a change in the field as none of the five European countries that currently grow GM corn are opting out. The manufacturers of the GM plants concerned have 30 days to accept or reject.