E.U. Parliament Endorses Country Opt-Out for GM Crops

The European Parliament yesterday approved a plan to allow individual E.U. member countries to opt out of the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. The European Commission proposed the idea a year ago as a way to break the current deadlock between opponents and supporters of GM crops that has prevented the approval of all but two varieties in the European Union.

The new scheme is a long way from taking effect, however. First, it has to be approved by a qualified majority of the member states, and several key members have already expressed their opposition.

Under current rules, the European Food Safety Authority in Parma, Italy, is responsible for assessing the health and environmental safety of new GM varieties for cultivation. Once approved, a variety is, in theory, allowed in all member states. But so far only one GM variety of maize and one potato used for starch production have been approved. At the same time, six member countries have taken advantage of a "safeguard clause" in the current law to prohibit cultivation of even the approved crops. The opt-out plan would allow countries opposed to GM crops to prohibit their planting without affecting other member states.

Several member country governments have said they oppose the plan because it would be unworkable in light of E.U. and World Trade Organization rules about open markets.