What does an EU Commissioner do if he wants Europe to start growing GM crops, but governments aren’t cooperating? The answer – offer governments the right to ban GM crops in turn for a blessing on GM crops at the EU level. The trick though, is to make the right to ban crops weak enough to be overturned in court, and break a ten year hiatus in GM crop approvals.  This is the kind of trickery that was behind a weak Commission draft law published last July.

In the past, some European countries have banned GM and the bans were challenged under EU law. So the idea of a more reliable right to ban appeared as a good deal to them. But things are not always as they appear.

The European Commission is willing to give countries the right to ban GM crops only if these bans are based on a specific number of reasons. This includes cultural and moral arguments, which EU lawyers say can be challenged by biotech companies in court.

This week, European Parliamentarians were given the chance to strengthen the draft GM ban law and took it. The leading environment committee added a number of important grounds to the law, most importantly the potential environmental impacts of GM crops, which are crucial if national bans are to be legally robust.

Parliamentarians also called for the EU to strengthen safety tests for new GM crops, something already called for by all 27 EU Environment ministers in 2008. This is very important, as national bans alone will never be enough to protect European consumers and the environment against the risks of GM crops.

Furthermore, MEPs(Member of the European Parliament) want to have all EU countries take measures to avoid contamination caused by GM crops. The committee also agreed that if these rules fail, governments should ensure that those responsible for the contamination pay damages. The “polluter pays” principle applied to agriculture. The committee also agreed that biotech companies should finally open up their products to independent research into the environmental and health risks of GM crops. In the past independent research was often hindered by biotech companies unwilling to grant access to the necessary seed material.

Today’s vote is a very important step on the way to protect EU consumers and farmers against GM contamination but we are not there yet. On 7 June, all 736 MEPs will vote on the draft law. It then has to be agreed on by all EU governments. While several countries are in favour of positive measures to control harmful GM crops, big countries like Germany and Spain opposed the law. There is still a lot of work to be done before Europe can ban GM crops.

Thank you! This work wouldn’t be possible without the million people that signed the petition calling for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops. Read more about the delivery of the very first EU citizens initiative!