Feb 4 (Reuters) - Plans to give national governments the right to decide whether to grow new genetically modified crops could unblock a paralysis in EU approvals, but risk igniting internal-market disputes within the bloc.
Proposals from the Dutch and Austrian governments, under consideration by the European Union’s executive arm, have won the backing of several countries and interested parties, and will be at the top of the new European Commission’s agenda.
Following are some facts on the approaches of key EU member states towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs):
* The Dutch agriculture ministry says GMOs can play a part in making agriculture more sustainable and ensuring food security. It believes the EU has to find a better way of approaching GMOs because of their widespread use and cultivation in many other parts of the world.
* The Netherlands wants the EU to modify the way it deals with GMO approvals. It is proposing a system whereby individual governments would have the final say on whether something may be grown in their country.
* GMOs are grown only in controlled research experiments in the Netherlands and not for commercial cultivation at present, a ministry spokesman said.
* Austria has had long-standing objections to GMOs and the public and farmers do not, in general, support GM cultivation. All Austrian provinces have joined the alliance of GMO-free regions in Europe. The country has a large number of small farms, many of them managed organically.
* In June 2009, the Austrian government submitted a note supported by 12 other member states to EU environment ministers that in effect backed the Dutch proposals.
* The British government believes there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the cultivation of GM crops in the UK, but that proposed uses need to be assessed for safety on a case-by-case basis.
* Various types of GM crop have been grown for research and development at a number of field sites in England since 1993 but there has been no commercial cultivation of GM crops.
* Britain believes the EU approval process takes too long and welcomes the Dutch initiative which aims to speed it up, though noting that details of the proposal still need to be worked out.
SPAIN * Spain has since 1998 been growing maize genetically modified to resist corn borers. Farmers sowed 76,000 hectares of it in 2009, or about 22 percent of all maize. They are expected to sow a similar amount this year. All GMO maize harvested is used to make animal feed.
* GMO strains of sugar beet are undergoing tests but have yet to be authorised for commercial planting.
* Spanish farmers are divided over GMOs. Some protest that current laws fail to prevent contamination of GMO-free areas, while others complain red tape prevents them from planting new crop varieties and competing with non-European farmers.
* Italy, where a majority of the population does not believe GMO crops are healthy, has set a de-facto moratorium on cultivation of GM crops because the rules on co-existence of traditional and GM crops are yet to be defined, and it resists GMO imports.
* Italy’s highest appeals court ordered the agriculture ministry in January to allow a farm to grow genetically modified maize, even in the absence of co-existence rules. The ruling, to be implemented in 90 days, sets a precedent for GMO crop cultivation in Italy. [ID:nLDE60S29U]
* The ministry says it has taken a “prudent” approach to the Dutch proposal, especially with regards to trade and possible weakening of the EU authorisations if they are limited to toxicological and environmental aspects.
* The French government halted in 2008 commercial planting of Monsanto’s (MON.N) Mon 810 maize, citing concerns over environmental effects.
* France’s cautious line on GM crops reflects their unpopularity in public opinion and the impact of GM opponents, who have regularly sabotaged field tests of GM plants.
* France criticised as insufficient a favourable opinion last June from the European Food Safety Authority on renewing the EU’s licence for Mon 810 maize.
* The new German coalition government is cautiously favourable on GMOs and has said it would support the Dutch plan.
* Germany banned the commercial production of Mon 810 GMO maize in April last year. The government has said the ban would remain until the completion of legal action against it.
For an analysis, click on [ID:nLDE6120A4] Reporting by Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam, Bate Felix in Brussels, Nigel Hunt in London, Martin Roberts in Spain, Svetlana Kovalyova in Italy, Gus Trompiz in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg