The European Union Parliament voted this week on draft legislation to give individual countries more authority and sovereignty in banning production of genetically modified (GM) crops. 

The question for years has been when will the rules against biotechnology crop production in Europe really loosen, and the biotech optimists have suggested it will slowly occur with changes in European Union mandates. Now, reports are that sentiment is growing for allowing individual countries to do as they please instead of having EU oversight.

“If member states can opt out of a product approval system simply because of political preference, without any scientific reasoning, the result will be more uncertainty and less choice for farmers,” Carel du Marchie Sarvaas of the EU biotech industry association EuropaBio, was reported as telling Reuters news service.

Lawmakers in Europe are being swayed by activists who claim consequences of biotech cropping are unknown and point to the U.S. with its unexpected glyphosate herbicide weed resistance problem. The Parliament majority let it be known they agree that governments should be free to ban the cultivation of GM crops based on environmental concerns, such as protecting biodiversity or preventing the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Trying to make lemonade out of lemons, some biotech proponents think allowing individual countries to make their own decisions about biotech crops could speed up the approval process for biotech crop production in some countries.

One example nation

Germany, a country that is home to multinational companies with huge biotech research and development budgets such as Bayer and BASF, does not appear to be one of the countries where biotech cropping is going to happen any time soon. The Green Party reportedly is growing stronger with recent votes at local and national levels.

The party is using the recent nuclear reactor problems in Japan to fuel concern about biotech unknowns. Germany is reportedly planning  to phase out its 17 nuclear power plants by 2022 because of Green Party opposition to atomic power, and that win has the party rejuvenated to gain more support against anything biotech.

“GMOs may be just like atomic energy,” according to a Bloomberg news quote of Ulrike Hoefken, a Green Party regional minister. “The risks are masked and big benefits are claimed. But it’s the general public who is left with the costs for any damage.”

The Greens are expected to show another win in the near future as the gossip in the ag industry is that BASF will move all its GM crop research out of Germany. The company has not officially verified such reports. Bayer does its GM greenhouse and field research outside Germany, although whether there is any minimal such work done in the country was not confirmed for this article.

GM food will be labeled

The scare about biotech cropping within Europe is building steam at the same time that biotech crops as food are being claimed to be unhealthy by the activist groups of Europe. So, a vote by the international oversight commission on food safety that will allow countries to label GM foods without being found as breaking international free trade laws has activists jumping for joy. There is little doubt any food that might be biotech related will go unlabeled in any EU country.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission voted in favor of GM labeling being allowed at its summit in Geneva, Switzerland, this week. The contention is that the labeling approval by the commission, which is not mandatory but voluntary, will protect countries from the threat of World Trade Organization lawsuits.

The Obama administration, as reported by www.The Hill.com, supported the organization’s labeling guidance because it was not worded as mandatory. Mandatory labeling will continue to be opposed by the U.S., according to comments from the administration, but again individual countries will have new power over its treatment of biotech crops and the resulting harvested foods.

The Hill quoted its administration source as saying, “This adopted text clarifies that foods derived from modern biotechnology are not necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production.”

It’s obvious that the activists in Europe disagree with that statement and appear to be winning the minds of EU consumers, rather than giving way for more biotech foods or crops in Europe in the near future.