The parliament voted on separate bills; first to authorise two new strains of GMO in the EU – DuPont Pioneer’s 1507 maize and Syngenta’s Bt11 maize, and second to relicense Monsanto’s MON810 maize – the only GM crop currently permitted for EU use.
1507 and Bt11 are tolerant to toxic pesticides such as glufosinate ammonium, which has been restricted in the EU since 2013 because of the threat it poses to small wildlife such as voles and butterflies.
Renewal of Mon810:
12 member states voted against the proposal: Bulgaria, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, France, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovenia
10 member states voted in favour: Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom
6 member states abstained: Belgium, Germany, Croatia, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia
Authorisation of 1507 and Bt 11:
13 member states voted against: Bulgaria, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, France, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden
8 member states voted in favour: Estonia, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Finland, United Kingdom
7 member states abstained: Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia
Public reaction has been less divided than the results, with many criticising governments – particularly the UK and Germany, for supporting the motion to allow new GMOs in the EU.
British minister for agriculture George Eustice said ahead of the vote that the response should be “science based and proportionate”, reflecting growing support for GM crop development in the UK government.
UK studies claim to have shown great potential in second generation GM crops (including creation of seeds which produce Omega 3 fish oil), and many politicians believe Britain could benefit from becoming a GM research hub following the country’s departure from the EU.
The UK government’s vote however, does not reflect the feelings of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, all of which remain opposed to GM cultivation and banned its use in 2015.
The EU’s opt out clause, which allows national governments to reject EU wide decisions, means cultivation of GM can be restricted regionally.
Nineteen governments have so far chosen to opt out wholly or in part from use of MON810, including the Wallonia region of Belgium.
Activists however say that the spread and contamination of non GM crops is both common and increasingly likely if new grains are authorised for use. Maize pollen can travel airborne for up to four kilometres, and already results in around five to 10 recorded instances of cross contamination per year.
Liz O’Neill, director of UK activist group GM Freeze, said: “The UK’s vote in favour of all three GM maize crops, despite each being banned in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, should ring alarm bells for anyone who wants to protect biodiversity and consumer choice in post-Brexit Britain.”
Greenpeace also weighed in, having been an integral part of the campaign against the measures. A press release on the vote described the ‘opt-out’ clause as a “divide and rule” policy.
Franziska Achterberg, direcotor of EU food policy for GreenPeace, said: “GM crops have no place in sustainable farming. Rightly, the majority of EU governments and parliamentarians have rejected them. But now it’s time for all EU countries to think beyond their borders. Governments should oppose environmentally damaging GM crops anywhere, not just in their own backyard, to protect wildlife and allow farmers and consumers to go GM-free.”
The vote in Parliament yesterday was not binding as the winning side did not reach the required 65% majority. The European Commission (EC) which backed the bills, could still decide to authorise the new grains.
Activists are now calling on President Jean Claude Juncker, president of the EC, to uphold the Parliament’s decision.
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops at Jean-Claude Juncker. He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically-modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialisation of our countryside.
“There is no political or public support for genetically-modified crops; farmers don't even want them. It's time for President Juncker to pull the plug on this failed technology once and for all, and to focus on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to genetically-modified crops and move on.”