In a vote taken this afternoon, the European Parliament voted by 480 votes to 159 to provide a legal basis to countries who wish to have more control over whether GMOs are grown within their territories, even if the GMO has already been authorised at EU level.

How the new system works

Two options are now open to member states who wish to prohibit the cultivation of a GMO on their land. The first is to request the applicant company, via the Commission, to say in the application that the GMO cannot be grown in all or part of the country. This step can be taken by a member state without providing a reason for why it wishes to prohibit or ban the GMO.

If the applicant company refuses to adjust its application according to the request, the second option for the member state is to adopt an opt-out measure. This gives the country final say not to cultivate a GMO on its territory. However, at this stage a reason will have to be submitted along with their applications which can range from environmental or agricultural policy objectives to land-use and socio-economic impacts.

GMO authorisation process

The primary authorisation process for allowing GMOs to be grown in the EU remains unchanged. This is a risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Member states are also allowed to vote at this stage on the decision for authorisation.

In certain circumstances, EU countries can already ban GMOs that are authorised at EU level by invoking a safeguard clause. Six countries have applied this clause which temporarily restricts or bans the use or sale of the GM product on their territory – Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.

Currently only one GM crop, insect-resistant maize from MON 810 from Monsanto, is grown in the EU.

GMO in Ireland

The Fine-Gael/Labour government which came into power in 2011 declared the GMO-free policy adopted under the 2009 government null and void. Then in February 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency gave Teagasc permission to research how resistant GM potatoes prove to be against blight disease. The trial is also testing the potato’s ecological impact. The trial began on 27 July 2012 and is due to end around the same date in 2016. According to Teagasc, Irish farmers presently spray fungicides on their potato crop an average of 15 times per season to control the fungus that causes this disease. Anti-GM food campaigners in Ireland have spoken out against this trial but Dr Ewen Mullins who is leading the potato trial says that Teagasc is neither for or against the use of GM crops in Ireland. He said it is simply “our responsibility to provide the knowledge without prejudice.”

Ireland was one of the countries that voted in favour of the propsal to vote on the above decision.