New EU rules that would allow member states to ban or restrict the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in their territory have moved a step closer, following their formal adoption by the European Council.
Under existing rules, member states can only ban or restrict the use of a genetically modified organism (GMOs) if they have new evidence that it could pose a risk to human health or the environment.
Janis Duklavs, the Latvian minister for agriculture and president of the council, said the change in law would give member states the freedom of choice.
“They can decide whether they want genetically modified crops to be cultivated on their territory or not. This is in line with the subsidiarity principle and respects citizens’ and farmers’ preferences,” Mr Duklavs said.
Member states can opt out when a GMO is being authorised by the EU, or they can opt out after authorisation by banning or restricting the cultivation of the crop.
The ban or restriction could relate to environmental or agricultural policy objectives, or on grounds such as town and country-planning, land use or socio-economic impacts.
The new rules also tackle the issue of cross-contamination, which is often raised by those opposed to the growing of GM crops. The rules state that member states in which GMOs are cultivated must take care to avoid cross-border contamination into neighbouring member states in which these GMOs are banned.
The European Council's adoption of the rules follows a vote on the issue in the European Parliament in January. The legislation was passed by 480 votes to 159.
After the parliament vote, some MEPS, such as Sinn Féin's Lynn Boylan, said the rules did not go far enough and were a "watered down" version of earlier drafts.
The new rules will come into force 20-days after their publication in the Official Journal of the EU.
Only one GM crop, an insect-resistant maize, is grown in certain EU states, including Spain.
The State has no commercial cultivation of GM crops but Teagasc has been trialling the growing of genetically modified potatoes at its research facility in Carlow.
The issue has been highly divisive in the EU, with pro and anti-GM crops member states pitted against each other. The legislation was originally tabled in 2010, but was deadlocked for four years because of disagreements between member states.