Is EU's New GMO Law a Gift to Agribusiness?

The European Parliament on Tuesday passed a law granting individual member states the power to permit or ban the planting of genetically modified crops, also known as GMOs, in their country. Though touted by some as another “nail in the coffin” for GMOs in Europe, other food advocates worry that the move further empowers agribusiness giants while failing to protect the rights of organic farmers.

Nine EU countries already have complete bans against the cultivation of Monsanto’s MON810 maize, which is the only GMO crop currently authorized in Europe. The maize variety is banned in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

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However, environmental groups warn that in countries where GMO crops are currently permitted, the new law has opened the door to the possibility of even more varieties of GMO crops being approved. Further, the law’s shortcomings fail to protect farmers who practice organic or GMO-free farming. 

“The rights of farmers who do not wish to grow GMO crops, particularly in England are under threat by this proposal,” said Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the UK-based Soil Association, in a statement issued ahead of the vote. “Indeed, the entire organic sector, growing rapidly in Europe and which may double by 2020, is in danger—as are the rights of anyone who wants to buy GMO free foods.”

And Bart Staes, food safety spokesperson for the Greens Party, which voted against the law, issued a statement warning that the new rule “risks finally opening the door for genetically modified organisms to be grown across Europe.”

Staes continued: “Despite a majority of EU member states and citizens being consistently opposed to GMOs, the real purpose of this new scheme is to make it easier to wave through EU authorizations of GMO crops. Countries opposed to GMOs are given the carrot of being able to opt-out of these authorizations but the scheme approved today fails to give them a legally-watertight basis for doing so. This is a false solution.”

Among the law’s weaknesses, environmental groups say biotech companies are given the power to negotiate with individual countries who seek a ban in a particular territory or geographic area.