English farmers to use GM crops 'in the near future' as EU approves new legislation

Genetically modified crops could be grown commercially by farmers in England following an approval today of new EU legislation.

After 4 years of negotiations, the European Council, Commission and Parliament reached an agreement that will give Member States the ability to decide whether or not to cultivate GM crops once they have passed the safety assessment.

MEPs voted to remove the Council-backed idea of a phase of negotiations with the GMO company, and supported plans to allow member states to ban GMO crops on environmental grounds.

"We now expect to see GM Maize 1507 get its final authorisation in the near future, and new applications could be approved much more quickly than has been the case until now," said Sarah Cundy, the UK’s head of GM policy.

The NFU said: "The NFU’s view on this has been very much in line with the Government.

"We feel an approach that legalises the use of unscientific, emotional and politicised arguments and justifications for banning an agricultural technology within a single market is not palatable or appropriate. We are concerned that companies will not invest in R&D pipelines for UK-relevant crop biotechnology.

As the deal includes a number of provisions that were difficult for the UK Government to accept the UK abstained in the vote.

Despite the rapid adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops by farmers in many countries, controversies about the technology continue. Uncertainty about GM crop impacts is one reason for widespread public suspicion, the report highlighted.

The results of the study found on average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said GM crops 'have a role to play' in the future, who was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference.

"If you look at what has happened in the US, crops are being grown in a more environmentally friendly way with less water usage and less pesticide usage," she said.

"I would like us to have that opportunity. Our farmers need access to technology that will help them work in world markets."

In November last year, S&D spokesperson on health and climate, MEP Matthias Groote, said: "The Parliament has given itself a strong mandate in the upcoming negotiations with the Council of the EU.

"It is a fact, that the overwhelming majority of European citizens do not support the cultivation of GMOs. This position must be reflected in the final outcome of the negotiations."

But Peter Melchett, Director of Policy at the Soil Association said: "At a time when US farmers are demanding more non-GM seeds, it is bizarre that Liz Truss claims GM crops grown in the US are using less pesticides, water and are more environmentally friendly. In fact, according to figures from the UD Department of Agriculture, overall pesticide use in the US on GM crops like maize and soya has increased overall since GM crops were introduced. Her facts are extremely outdated.

There are also plenty of studies showing that GM crops cause benefits in terms of higher yields and cost savings in agricultural production, and welfare gains among adopting farm households.

"Yield gains of GM crops are 14 percentage points higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Especially smallholder farmers in the tropics and subtropics suffer from considerable pest damage that can be reduced through GM crop adoption," the report said.

"Another concern often voiced in the public debate is that studies funded by industry money might report inflated benefits. Our results show that the source of funding does not significantly influence the impact estimates. We also analyzed whether the statistical method plays a role. Many of the earlier studies just compared yields of GM and non-GM crops without considering possible differences in other inputs and conditions that may also affect the outcome. Net impacts of GM technology can be estimated with regression-based production function models that control for other factors. Interestingly, results derived from regression analysis report higher average yield effects."

"One limitation is that not all of the original studies included in this meta-analysis reported sample sizes and measures of variance. This is not untypical for analyses in the social sciences, especially when studies from the grey literature are also included. Future impact studies with primary data should follow more standardized reporting procedures. Nevertheless, our findings reveal that there is robust evidence of GM crop benefits. Such evidence may help to gradually increase public trust in this promising technology."

Case-by-case risk assessments to be carried out by the European Food Safety Authority should take account of the direct, indirect, immediate, delayed and cumulative effects of GMOs on human health and the environment, and always take account of the precautionary principle, MEPs say.

Member states should also ensure that GMO crops do not contaminate other products, and particular attention should be paid to preventing cross-border contamination, for instance by implementing “buffer zones” with neighbouring countries, MEPs say.

The committee's second reading recommendation was approved by 53 votes to 11 with 2 abstentions. The committee also voted for the opening of negotiations (57 votes to 5 with 4 abstentions) with the Italian Presidency of the Council, which will start today.

S&D spokesperson on health and climate, MEP Matthias Groote, said: "The Parliament has given itself a strong mandate in the upcoming negotiations with the Council of the EU.

"It is a fact, that the overwhelming majority of European citizens do not support the cultivation of GMOs. This position must be reflected in the final outcome of the negotiations."

Gilles Pargneaux, who is the S&D member responsible for this file, said: "GMOs are a good example of what the Parliament does or tries to do to champion citizens' rights before the Commission or the Council.

“I welcome the adoption of a complete and very balanced report by Frédérique Ries. Once improved by our amendments, this report will faithfully reflect the position taken by the Parliament at first reading.

“This proposal brings more legal certainty to member states willing to limit or ban GMO cultivation in their territory. In future, they will be able to invoke new grounds: environmental policy, socioeconomic reasons or the need to avoid GMOs in other agricultural products.

"This report includes most of S&D's priorities, such as the choice of the environmental legal basis, a more extensive list of reasons for banning, the need to have binding measures on coexistence in order to avoid the contamination of traditional cultivations by GMO cultivations, reinforcement of the risk evaluation method by the European Food Safety Evaluation (EFSA) and far greater transparency in the banning procedure.”