EU safeguards GMO cultivation

At last week’s plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs passed legislation allowing EU member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of crops containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in their own territories.

GMOs are plants whose genetic materials have been artificially modified, for example to make them resistant to droughts or insects or to enhance their yield.

While enhanced crop production may seem like a win-win situation, GMOs are highly controversial with opponents concerned about their long-term effects on the environment, on farming and on our health.

I supported this law because it responds to these concerns. The new law allows for GMOs to be used within the member states but also allows both scientific evidence and citizens’ concerns to be taken into account when deciding to grant an individual licence.

Under the new system GMOs will be approved for general use at EU level by the member states. The member states governments will collectively approve them under an EU authorisation system.

After that however, member states will decide individually on whether to grant a licence for the use of that GMO within their territories – it basically gives each member state the green light to approve (or disapprove) the licencing of GMOs in their own territories, even if they have already been permitted at an EU level.

My colleague Paul Brannen MEP, who represents the North East and is Labour’s European spokesperson on agriculture said:

“These new measures are welcome news for those who care about the environment, as they will provide better safeguards against unwanted influence of agribusiness or biotech companies by weakening their role in the authorisation process for new GMOs. This should be also good news for the fast growing, environmentally friendly and job-generating organic sector which cannot afford to be contaminated by GM crops.”

Biotechnology can be used as a way to strengthen the UK’s food chain, if it is used in a controlled and organised manner. We do need to look at new ways to produce high-quality and inexpensive food produce, but we need to proceed with caution. Member states must always have robust scientific evidence before allowing GMO use.

I have always sought to embrace new technology, especially now in my role as a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. This new legislation will ensure that our agricultural sector remains a key British industry, whilst looking out for the needs of the British people.