Despite 19 out of 28 EU member states opposing a genetically modified crop, it was authorized due to the bloc's voting system. Green MEP Bart Staes says the Commission would be ill-advised to go against the majority.
The European Food Standards Authority has declared the genetically modified organism (GMO) variety safe, but critics warn the crop type could endanger butterflies and moths and ultimately human health. Nineteen of the 28 EU countries opposed the measure on Tuesday (11.02.2014), but that wasn't enough to reject the crop since the bloc's voting system weighs member states according to size.
DW: Just five out of 28 EU member states were in favor of GMO crop variety 1507. Britain, Spain, Finland, Estonia and Sweden were in favor of approving it, while France and Hungary led opposition to the maize. Why is the EU torn when it comes to GMO practices?
Bart Staes: All opinion polls, such as the Eurobarometer survey, show that the European public is rather reluctant towrad GMO products. This now is the third attempt to authorize a GMO product in a commercial way. First, we had the maize Monsanto 810, and then, a few years ago, we had the potato Amflora from BASF. And now, this Pioneer 1507 maize.
Quite a number of member states - 19 - explicitly said that they don't want this product to be authorized for various reasons. There was some concern about the impact of this Pioneer 1507 maize will have on animals, on biodiversity and on the environment in general. In January, the European Parliament also [passed] a resolution which asked the Commission to withdraw the request for authorization.
You should really take into account that it's a very strange message to the general public to now authorize GMO maize which is clearly not wanted by a majority of member states. The strange thing about it is that the Pioneer request dates to before the Lisbon treaty, so it's according to the old rules, the rules of decision-making before the Lisbon treaty of 2009 - and this means the qualified majority.
If it would have been a request according to the new procedures under the Lisbon treaty, then with the 19 member states we would have had enough votes in the council to block this authorization.
Four EU members including Belgium and Germany abstained from voting. German consumers are largely against GMO crops and Germany had previously opposed the practice. Why did the German government turn?
I do not understand the position of the German government. Indeed, the German public is very much against it. They didn't vote against it, they abstained. But in practice, if you need a qualified majority to counteract something, an abstention is a yes vote. So in fact the German government voted in favor of giving the commission the possibility to authorize this GMO crop.
Britain, for instance, has backed the practice by arguing that Europe risked becoming "the museum of world farming." Can GMO crops help European farmers compete on the global market?
The argument of the UK government is to say we need this technology to be competitive in the world. Or, often, they also say we need this technology to feed the world. It's complete nonsense.
When you start this kind of discussion, you have to start thinking over - what kind of agriculture do you want? Do you want intensive industrial agriculture, agriculture that's very negative for planet earth, for the resources of our planet? It's against biodiversity, because the GMO technology advances agricultural practices that go for monocultures.
The so-called advantage by using this kind of GMO crops - that you use less pesticides - is totally wrong. There are many, many, many scientific studies showing that it might be true at the beginning that fewer pesticides are used, but then the plants become resistant again and then you have to use pesticides anyway.
It's the third GMO crop variety for cultivation that got approved in Europe. Will this decision pave the way for more GMO crops within EU borders in the future?
For commercial use it's the third crop. Monsanto 810 is authorized and commercially grown in a few member states, mostly in Spain. For the Amflora potato from BASF - and I think this will happen with this Pioneer 1507 crop as well - the European Court of Justice decided last December that authorization had to be withdrawn because of errors that had been made by European institutions. So in fact, the only valid commercial crop in the European Union at this moment is the Monsanto 810 crop.
We will see what the Commission will do. If the Commission is wise, then it listens to Parliament and the majority of member states. They will lose if they now authorize it - people will go to the Court of Justice. And I predict already right now that the final result will be exactly the same as [the ruling on] the Amflora potato, because the same kind of mistakes have been made.
European Consumers do want another kind of agriculture, another way of producing food, and I think it is up to the two legislators - European Parliament and, by the end of this year, the new Commission - to take into account the demands of the European citizen.
The anti-GMO movement is growing. There are already more than 120 European regions very clearly stipulating - whatever is decided on the European level - we do not want commercial crops of GMOs on our territory. And I think we have to listen to the people.
Bart Staes is a Green MEP and a member of the Flemish-speaking Green party in Belgium.