Opt-Outs Abound as Majority of EU Says No to GMOs

On the eve of the European Union’s deadline for member states and territories to declare their stance on allowing or banning genetically modified (GM or GMO) crops, more than half of EU countries are asking to opt out—a total of 15 out of 28 members, according to the latest count by the European Commission.

The governments, including those of Germany and Scotland, are utilizing new EU rules which allow member states to send territorial exclusion requests to agrochemical manufacturers like Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer—even if their crops snag wider EU approval.

As of October 2, the list of members opting out also includes Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Belgium’s Wallonia region, and Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK.

By invoking those rights, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said, the majority of EU governments are “rejecting the Commission’s drive for GM crop approvals.”

“The only way to restore trust in the EU 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,” Achterberg said.

In European Parliament, Green food safety spokesperson Bart Staes said, “The resolve of these EU member states to ban GMO cultivation on their territory is laudable. It confirms what we already know: that a clear majority in Europe is opposed to genetically-modified crops. It is clearly regrettable that the Commission and some member states want to push ahead with GMO cultivation in spite of the myriad of problems this poses, also cross border.”

Currently, only one GMO crop is cleared for cultivation in Europe—Monsanto’s MON810 maize—but seven more varieties are under consideration by the Commission. The EU rules allow member states to ban all eight.

The opt-outs only cover the cultivation of GMO crops, rather than importing of GMO products. The EU has approved 70 GMO products, including human food, animal feed, and cut flowers.

Negotiations for a strategy that would allow member states to ban GMO imports in their border-free territories are still under way. If such a plan is approved by the European Parliament’s environmental committee at its meeting next month, it could bring even more substantial changes.