A compromise deal to give European Union states the option of banning genetically modified crops won approval from EU environment ministers on Thursday, bringing the EU closer to ending years of deadlock over GM cultivation.
Thursday's compromise deal drew criticism from both opponents and supporters of growing GM food in Europe.
Monsanto, maker of the only GM crop grown in the EU, said if the law were enacted as drafted, the company would continue to focus its investment in other parts of the world. The European Green Party, meanwhile, described the deal as "a Trojan horse" that would open the door to GM crops across Europe.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU environment ministers from 26 of the 28 member states backed the new proposal, which still needs approval from the European Parliament. Only Belgium and Luxembourg abstained.
France, whose constitutional court has already issued a ruling to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize, welcomed the proposal.
But in the cases where the Commission approves a crop, individual states could ask for a ban and would also have the right to ask the Commission to ask companies to exclude them from any new requests for approval for a GM crop.
"The Commission will serve as an intermediary and we're grateful for that. We think it would not be appropriate for sovereign states to negotiate with companies," Hendricks said.
Britain, as a supporter of GM crops, also welcomed the compromise.
"If the European Parliament passes this law, farmers in all regions of the UK will have more power in deciding whether to grow GM crops that have passed a robust, independent safety assessment," British Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson said in a statement.
Years of Indecision
An earlier attempt to agree a compromise on GM cultivation failed in 2012, when EU ministers were unable to agree. But Thursday's agreement had been expected after EU diplomats in May backed the proposal in a closed-door meeting.
In the interim, intense lobbying from GM companies and environment groups is likely to continue.
The companies say science supports GM crops and object to the new proposal on the grounds countries could opt out of GM cultivation for social reasons, such as public opposition.
So far, EU authorities have only approved two GM crops for commercial cultivation, and one was later blocked by a court.
Brandon Mitchener, a spokesman for Monsanto, said his company would review the regulatory environment in coming years both at a European level and at a national level.
"However, if enacted as currently drafted, this proposal is likely to reinforce the grounds for our already announced decision of investing in GM technology in regions other than Europe," he said in a statement.