Environment Council examines Commission's proposal to restrict GMO cultivation

Ministers meeting at the Environment Council held in Brussels on 14 October, exchanged views over Commission proposals to allow member states to restrict the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territory. Among other issues ministers debated over the consequences of this proposal as regard to WTO internal rules, and the possible fragmentation which it may cause within the internal market.

On 13 July, the Commission proposed amending directive 2001/18 so as to permit member states to  prohibit GMO cultivation in their territory. The Commission also presented a revised recommendation on co-existence between GM and conventional crops, which would allow member states to define GM-free areas.

A this point, ministers were asked to determine to what extent does the GMO package proposed by the Commission contribute to the requirements of the conclusions of the Environment Council of December 2008, as well as how the draft regulation proposed by the Commission would provide member states with a workable and legally sound option to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory, two issues which were already at stake at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in September 2010.

Some delegations welcomed the Commission proposal as a way to respond to public concern on GMO cultivation. However, some others had questions as to whether the Commission proposal would be workable in practice. Some ministers asked the Commission to clarify how restrictive measures would have to be justified so as to be compatible with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and internal market rules. As effects on human health and the environment are already considered during community authorisation process for GMOs, they should not be invoked by member states when banning the cultivation of GMOs that are authorised for placing on the market.

The impact of the proposal on the internal market and concerns about the risk of a possible fragmentation of the common agricultural policy were also two issues raised during the debate.

Another group of ministers insisted on the implementation of the Council conclusions of December 2008, especially the demand for a strengthened environmental risk assessment during GMO authorisation. The Council conclusions of December 2008 called inter alia for a strengthening of the risk  assessment in the GMO authorisation process and asked the Commission to present a report on socio-economic benefits and risks of the placing on the market of GMOs by January 2010, a report which some delegations reminded should already have been presented by the Commission.

Debate and legal analysis of this proposal will continue within the Council.