A national opt-in mechanism in the EU for the cultivation of GM crops

The EU is highly divided politically when it comes to GMOs. Perhaps it is better then to let the member states decide for themselves?

The potential cultivation of GM crops in the EU remains, after many years, a highly contentious issue. Subject to political, rather than scientific, considerations, many EU member states prefer to not allow the cultivation of these crops whereas some other member states would indeed favour the authorisation of certain GM crops to make them available to their farmers. The result is a regulatory gridlock in the EU where a qualified majority is not reached either for, or against, the authorisation for field release.

One GM maize (MON810) has already been authorised in the EU since the late 1990s though. To meet the demand of some member states to ban this GM crop, a new Directive (2015/412) was adopted in 2015 allowing individual member states to opt out (i.e. to ban or restrict) from the cultivation of GM crops on their territory. The result was that the insect-resistant MON810 has been banned in 17 countries and two territories, whereas it is currently cultivated in Spain and Portugal.

A co-author team of experts from 12 EU countries have therefore suggested that the EU member states should also have the right to “opt in” on the cultivation of GM crops. Originally published in Nature Biotechnology last year, they have now outlined two scenarios, published in EMBO Reports, for the implementation of this suggested opt-in mechanism.

In the first scenario, the initial parts of the harmonised decision-making in the EU remains as today, with the European Commission drafting a decision which is subject to voting in the Regulatory Committee 2001/18. Only if there is no decision (by QM) in that committe, the opt-in mechanism will be available for the individual member states. In the second scenario, a positive assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) means that the GM crop in question would be immediately available for opt‐in by the member states, entirely eliminating the basis for a collective authorisation procedure.

– A national opt‐in mechanism for GM crop cultivation may not fit readily with the EU internal market philosophy, says the lead author Dennis Eriksson. – The political reality is such though, that we need unorthodox solutions. The opt‐out mechanism introduced by Directive 2015/412 has also been characterised as very atypical in terms of the EU internal market policy, and the suggested opt-in mechanism may simply be a way of adjusting the current imbalance between those EU member states which want to restrict the cultivation of GM crops and those that want to allow it.