A European Union plan to let individual member countries ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops won support from the bloc’s parliament, setting up a clash with governments that oppose the step.
The European Parliament endorsed a draft law that would give national governments an opt-out from rules making the EU a single market for goods. The aim is to accelerate approvals at EU level of applications to plant gene-modified seeds made by companies such as Monsanto Co.
The 27-nation EU is split over the safety of such foods, slowing EU permission to grow them and prompting complaints by the U.S. and other trade partners. Under current practices, national authorities throughout the EU have a say over approvals because the bloc’s common-market rules require that a product sold in one member be allowed for sale in the others.
“It is necessary to respect the rights of the member states when it comes to the use of their own territory,” said Corinne Lepage, a French member who steered the measures through the EU Parliament today in Strasbourg, France. National governments, which are blocking the draft law, need to give their backing before any final EU approval.
Governments threatened in October to reject the proposal, which was made a year ago by the European Commission. Environment ministers from countries including France and Germany said that the draft rules may splinter European trade policy.
The commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, wants to expand Europe’s share of the $11 billion global biotech-seed market in the face of resistance by half or more of the bloc’s members. Surveys show opposition to gene-altered foods by European consumers, who worry about risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of so-called superweeds that are impervious to herbicides.
Biotech foods range from corn to oilseeds in which genetic material has been altered to add traits such as resistance to weed-killing chemicals. The EU ended a six-year ban on new gene-altered products in 2004 after tightening labeling rules and creating a food agency to screen applications.
In a case brought by the U.S., Canada and Argentina, the World Trade Organization ruled in 2006 that the European moratorium was illegal. Since 2004, the EU has let new gene-modified products be imported for food and feed uses while stopping short of endorsing any request for cultivation with the exception of one application for a potato developed by BASF SE to be grown for the production of industrial starch.