The European Commission is set to authorize the growing of genetically modified maize on European soil, despite 19 member states voting against the move, highlighting the “absurd” rules of weighted votes in the EU.
In a debate on Tuesday, 19 EU member states indicated that they would vote against the authorization of genetically modified maize because of health and environmental concerns and opposition in the European Parliament.
But because of the so-called comitology rules of the EU, their votes will be insufficient to overturn the decision of bigger member states that support the introduction of insect resistant Pioneer 1507.
The UK and Spain are both in favor of GM crops, while Germany abstained and France is staunchly against their introduction.
European health Commissioner Tonio Borg said on Tuesday that the commission is now legally bound to approve the crop. Borg insisted that extensive research since 2001 had shown the crop was safe.
Britain has argued that without GM crops, Europe risks becoming “the museum of world farming,” and that there is a clear scientific case for GM, while Spain has said that its farmers need to be able to compete with non-EU nations that can grow GM produce.
DuPont, which jointly developed Pioneer 1507 with Dow Chemical, said in statement that the EU has a “legal obligation to itself, to its farmers and scientists and to its trade partners” to support the approval of new agricultural advances.
France however warned that if the European Commission goes ahead with the introduction of GM maize, then it risks fuelling further Euroscepticism by granting approval in the face of fierce opposition.
“We have a majority against it, so I don’t understand how we can approve this. Even more so ahead of EU elections. This is dangerous to the image of the EU institutions, it will fuel the idea that Europe doesn’t work or works badly,” said Thierry Repentin, the French EU affairs minister.
While Thierry’s Italian colleague called the outcome “indigestible” and his Hungarian counterpart a showcase of the “European absurd”.
The Green group in the European Parliament has said there is now no democratic mandate for giving the green light to GM maize.
The environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have said that Pioneer 1507 harms moths and butterflies, ignoring the harm that it can do to humans and is designed to be resistant to a kind of weed killer that is about to be phased out in any case over safety concerns.
“Approval by the Commission would be irresponsible because of the environmental risk, untenable because of widespread political and public opposition, and legally compromised because the Commission has forced it through without the required consultation,” said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace’s agriculture policy director.
But it is likely that the Commission will seek a compromise of sorts. Borg said that it would revive a separate proposal that would allow individual member states to ban GM crops while other countries could approve them.
He also appeared to back down from approving the bill on Wednesday.
“This file took thirteen years to come to fruition, I am cautious about giving timelines,” he said.
GM crops are generally unpopular in Europe, where the public are largely against them and environmentalists keep raising concerns about their impact on human health and on biodiversity. They are however, widely grown in the US and Asia despite strong opposition from anti-GMO activists and local farmers.
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