Europe votes against GMOs but the Council votes for TTIP

ENVI committee meeting - Vote on Possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory (EP Audiovisual Services, 11/11/2014)

Frederique Ries during ENVI committee meeting – Vote on Possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory (EP Audiovisual Services, 11/11/2014)

Yesterday afternoon good news came out of the European Parliament; good news for the anti-GM (Genetically Modified Organisms) movement and hopefully for the EU too. The Environment Committee of the European Parliament (ENVI) voted in favour of the right of the member-states to ban GMOs from their territories with 53 votes to 11 and 2 abstentions.

According to the result of the vote, the European member states are able to decide upon the cultivation of GMOs in their territory, despite any EU collective lead to adopt one GMO product or another. The European politicians voted in fact against the EU Council proposal of last June, according to which the EU countries would need to negotiate and strike a deal with the GMO producer on its insertion in the market.

Only under their dead body

“This vote shows we have secured a broad consensus between the political groups in the European Parliament on this sensitive issue” said Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE) who is steering the legislation through Parliament.”The measures approved today will secure flexibility for member states to restrict, ban the cultivation of GMO crops if they so wish. At the same time, we have secured a clear process for the authorisation of GMOs at EU level, with improved safeguards and a key role for the European Food Safety Authority, which is important for us” she added.

Furthermore, in the text it is described that the reasons for an EU member state to ban a GMO crop, despite an EU approval, can be the particular environmental policies of the state, the urbanist planning, policies on agriculture, public policy or even potential social or economic consequences.

But of course an EU member can always have more reasons to ban a GMO crop. Those can be the “contamination danger” of other products, scientific doubts about the ‘harmless’ genetically modified seeds, development of pesticide resistance, the environmental disruption that GMOs could cause, as well as evidence of harmful impacts on health. The MEPs yesterday really had a wild ride against GMOs, expressing to the fullest all the anti-GM feelings and arguments of their electorate.

Not to omit that our good MEPs pointed the finger to the European Food Safety Authority, to examine every GMO ‘intrusion’ as a case per case project. They also ‘instructed’ the authority to examine the direct but also the indirect and longterm consequences of GMO cultivation in the EU.

Regarding the member states, the MEPs underlined yesterday that the EU countries should work to stop “GMO contamination” of other products in neighbour countries. Hence, they asked for the provision of “buffer zones” between neighbour countries, to stop the GMO ‘virus’ from spreading around.

Basically, MEPs told EFSA that GMOs will expand in Europe only under their dead body. That was crystal clear from yesterday’s vote at the Parliament. In addition, the Parlamentarians’ position is so rigid that they will take the matter for negotiations at the EU Council, under the coordination of the Italian Presidency. It remains to be seen first how strong the anti-GM sentiment in Italy is and second if the Council will do what it has to do, listen to the European citizen.

The GMO political framework in Europe

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been a big debate in Europe for already a long time. The general sentiment of the citizens is certainly against GMOs. France and Germany are the two big powers in Europe that are fiercely fighting against GMO expansion in the Old Continent. On the Contrary, the UK, traditional ally of the US, which by the way is the world’s biggest GMO power, is emphatically in favour. Fruit of the fierce pan-European anti-GM sentiment is the fact that there is only one GMO seed at the moment growing at the Old Continent, Monsanto’s GM maize MON810.

A key fact in the GMO story, though, that gave birth to the MEP rage, is the Council’s proposal of last June. According to that, if the EU approves a GM crop and then the member state wants to ban it, then the country should negotiate with the GM company and ‘hopefully’ strike a deal. Yesterday’s MEPs vote basically attacked this specific clause.

Corine Lepage, French MEP, had said on the Council’s proposal: “The Council’s text does not give a solid judicial basis to realistically ban GMOs. It gives biotechnology companies a tremendous influence in the decision-making process”. Further, Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, argues on the matter: “Member states have to go to [GM seed producer] Syngenta and ask: please Syngenta, can you exclude our territory?”…“You oblige a sovereign state to strike a deal with a private company.” Referring to this suggested ‘deal-making’ model, Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP, right after the vote yesterday said: “We want to keep this issue out of the courts as companies are much more likely to challenge a member states’ decision that is unclear”.

But the Council votes for TTIP

As expected, yesterday’s vote was welcomed by left-leaning parties. Similarly all anti-GM organisations were openly satisfied by the result. At the same time the conservative parties in Europe voted against and felt great disappointment for the result.

“Today’s vote would give European countries a legally solid right to ban GM cultivation in their territory, making it difficult for the biotech industry to challenge such bans in court,” said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director. On the other hand, the other voice was heard too: “The parliament’s position on GM cultivation risks inflicting untold damage to robust, science-based policymaking in Europe. We strongly oppose these proposals and voted against them today. We will continue to oppose them,” said Julie Girling, environment spokeswoman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament.

New angle: no GMOs no TTIP

All in all, it is evident that the GMO matter is one of the very few matters at the EP where almost unanimously our politicians defend our right for no GMOs on our dishes. Council’s proposal for member states to fight this out with GMO giants hit on an immense brick wall yesterday that appears impossible to breach.

Bringing another angle to the matter, it seems that the EU Council is supporting ‘wholeheartedly’ TTIP (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership), as the Commission does as well. Given the importance of the GMO matter for the EU-US trade deal to succeed, June’s proposal can only be correlated with pro TTIP politics. Apparently, the ministers wanted to leave the door open for GMO giants, e.g. Monsanto, to fight out ban claims in conferences or courts.

This would greatly please Washington, as a good step forward on the road to TTIP conclusion. But the MEPs care only about the sentiment of their electorate body, which by the way is emphatically anti-GM and often anti-TTIP.

Yesterday’s vote could be seen as a clear failure of pro TTIP politics at the Council and a victory of the European citizen. In any case, as the TTIP negotiations evolve, an agreement on the matter must be made between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Otherwise, no GMOs, no TTIP.

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