Over half of the countries that make up the European Union have either already opted out of growing genetically modified (GM) crops on their land, or plan on doing so before the decision-making deadline passes this week. This means that two-thirds of Europe’s population and arable land will remain GM-free for the foreseeable future.
“A clear majority of the E.U.’s governments are rejecting the Commission’s drive for GM crop approvals,” said Greenpeace’s E.U. food policy director Franziska Achterberg in a statement. “They don’t trust E.U. safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food. The only way to restore trust in the E.U. system now is for the Commission to hit the pause button on GM crop approvals and to urgently reform safety testing and the approval system.”
While many environmental organizations have praised the move of the countries that have decided not to grow the crops, agricultural companies have warned that it will strangle the biotech industry. They claim that it will effectively kill off investment in the industry within Europe, and that it could set a worrying precedent that will likely spread.
Germany became the largest E.U. country to opt out on Tuesday, joining Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia in rejecting the crops. In addition to these 15 countries, four regions have also opted out, being Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Belgian area of Wallonia. This means that England is now the only place in the U.K. where the cultivation of GM crops is allowed.
Under the new European Directive passed earlier this year, member states can ask biotech companies whose GM crops have already been approved for cultivation, not to market the plants in their country. This will currently apply to four big multinational companies; Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and Pioneer. The deadline for the other countries of the E.U. to make their mind up is 3 October 2015.
“We deeply regret that some E.U. countries have decided to make use of the new licensed ban on the cultivation of safe and approved GM crops on their territory,” Beat Spath, the director of the industry group Europabio, told The Guardian. “The new E.U. legislation allowing these bans is a ‘stop’ sign for agricultural cultivation that sends a negative signal for all innovative industries considering investing in Europe.”
Despite banning the cultivation of these crops, several countries still import GM maize from other countries where it is legal. Many cite unsatisfactory safety legislation controlling the growing of the plants, though it’s expected that the biotech companies will challenge the opting-out of E.U. member states.