European Parliament Proposals for Tighter GM Regulations Progress of Regress?

On 5 July 2011, the European parliament backed plans to let member states choose whether or not to ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory. A decision which has been widely greeted as a victory for ant-GMO NGO’s. However, a more careful assessment throws doubt on the validity of this reaction, and it is our view that an opportunity was missed to to call for a complete prohibition of all GM crops.

The EU parliament proposals show improvements on the EU Commission’s original proposals which excluded both environmental and health concerns from its list of what would be deemed legally acceptable criteria for a member state to block the import of GM crops. Under the European Parliament’s latest proposal, environmental considerations are now included, however ‘health’ is still not on the agenda. There also appears to be a tightening of financial liability on the perpetrator of any cross contamination with organic or non GM crops under the EU parliament proposals.

However, these (and other) steps forward in the European parliament proposals need to be seen against the dangers which arise from allowing each member state to set its own GM agenda.

  1. Countries that are predominantly pro GM (such as England, Sweden, Holland and others) may find it easier to open their doors to GM crop planting once the decision whether or not to do so is placed on their doorstep.
  2. Individual countries will have to face up to the WTO’s insistence that blocking GM crops is against the principal of ‘free trade’ and a denial of freedom of choice for farmers. At present the Commission deals with such complaints, but if it passes this responsibility to individual member states, will these states have the resources to fight a legal battle directly with the WTO?
  3. One Country that may have succeeded in prohibiting GM crops will quite possibly have to deal with another that has liberalised GM planting, bringing up the threat of cross border contamination. If a country accepts the notion of ‘coexistence’ then cross contamination may also arise within the different regions of nation states.
  4. How easy will it actually be to put into affect a ‘banning procedure’ at the individual country level? The legal complexities are likely to be very considerable and very expensive. Will governments still consider prohibiting GM a priority once the financial costs of doing so are fully recognised?
  5. If the proposals go through, the European Commission may have effectively washed its hands of the responsibility of regulating the single market’s GM trading terms and deciding which new GM products should be allowed to be planted in member states. In this situation, it will likely be more ready to show lenience to WTO and US corporate pressures to allow many more GM seeds to be registered on the statutory European seeds list. Currently the Commission is under close scrutiny by member state NGO’s and from countries that have banned GM crops. This will no longer be the case when each country becomes preoccupied with its own private battles.

The EU Parliamentary report was adopted with 540 votes for, 84 against and 31 abstentions.
In our view, the parliament should have voted on the increasingly weighty evidence, supplied by independent laboratories, that ingesting GM foods has deeply serious long term consequences for human health, as well as animal and plant health. As it is, the ‘health’ consequences associated with GM crops is still not even under discussion within the EU parliament or EU Commission. By the time it is, many millions are likely to have already suffered the consequences. Current evidence suggests that these will include toxic poisoning, widespread infertility in both men and women and a string of cancer related losses of life.

Julian Rose and Jadwiga Lopata, August 2011