More countries are rejecting and banning genetically modified (GM) crops and questioning the productivity or pest-resistance of GM crops as evidence grows that more chemicals being used in GM agriculture. EU countries issuing or renewing bans on GM crops recently included Poland and France. Poland banned the cultivation of certain GM strains of maize (Mon810 maize) and potatoes. Mon810 is also banned by Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Luxembourg.

The European Commission doesn’t plan to give the green light to new genetically modified crops in the coming months. First it wants an agreement on the draft legislation that would allow member governments to decide individually whether to grow or ban GM plants, a spokesperson said on January 22. The draft rules proposed by the EC in 2010 were meant to unblock EU decision-making on genetically modified crops, by allowing some countries to use the technology while letting others impose cultivation bans. But opposition from France, Germany and Britain has prevented agreement on the proposals, which must be approved by a majority of governments and the European Parliament before becoming law. “We are going to discuss the issue with the three governments to see if we can reopen negotiations on the proposals,” said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg.

Currently, EU rules state that any GM crop approved for cultivation can be grown anywhere inside the bloc, unless countries have specific scientific reasons for banning their cultivation. Only two GM crops are currently approved for cultivation in Europe, where opposition from sceptical consumers and environmental groups remains strong. That compares to more than 90 GM varieties approved for cultivation in the United States and about 30 in Brazil. Seven GM crops - six maize varieties and one soybean - are currently awaiting cultivation approval from the Commission, having received a positive risk evaluation from the EU’s food safety watchdog. The crops concerned were developed by agri-business multinationals including Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta.

Vincent said the Commission was unlikely to propose approving the seven varieties for cultivation in the coming weeks, but dismissed any suggestion of a freeze on EU cultivation decisions for GM crops.

Commenting on the reports, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said that EU testing is not currently able to assess the safety of GM crops for the environment and health. “For this reason, European countries unanimously called on the Commission to fix the authorisation system in 2008. The logical next step would be to freeze approvals of GM crops and to reform the way risk assessments are carried out.”

And the European Commission has announced a public consultation period until April 4 and asked for comments from citizens, organizations and public authorities concerned by a review of the EU policy on organic agriculture, which includes co-existence of GM crops with organic farming.

The EC said that organic farming and production play a significant economic role in the EU’s agricultural landscape. They can provide a market-oriented alternative for agricultural producers wishing to respond to the increasing demand for high- quality, eco-friendly products.

Under the Common Agricultural Policy, organic production is supported by European financial support, policies and laws. This approach is designed to bolster consumer confidence while creating the conditions for fair competition among organic producers in the 27 EU countries. Organic farming covers a relatively limited part of the EU’s utilized agricultural area - around 5% - but the sector is driven by ever-increasing consumer demand. In the current economic downturn, will consumers continue to turn towards a more sustainable lifestyle and higher consumption of organic products?

In this consultation, the European Commission would like views on how best to develop organic farming.