A new recipe for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is being rolled out in Europe.  The key ingredient is going to be states’ rights.

Cooking all this up is the complex set of institutions in Brussels that runs the EU.  Beginning in mid-July, the European Commission is expected to propose that the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament should allow member states to do their own thing when it comes to GMOs.

Two GMO seeds were recently allowed in Europe, the first to be approved in 12 years.

On June 29, EU agriculture ministers will vote on six additional applications for GMO corn intended for human and animal feed.  Two of the applications are from Monsanto, two from Syngenta, and one each from Dow AgroSciences Europe and Pioneer.

In letting European countries go their own way, the EU plans to strengthen its 2003 criteria for coexistence between GMO and organic crops.  GMO-free regions will have to be set aside if co-existence cannot be achieved at the farm level.

EU President José Manuel Barroso has been working to resolve GMO decision-making since last September.  The EU will not specify the reasons that a member state might use to ban GMO planting.

A 2001 directive for the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment would be amended to include that authorizations “will not affect the possibility for a member state to adopt measures prohibiting, restricting or obstructing the cultivation of all GMOs or of one GMO in particular […] on all or part of its territory, on condition that these measures are based on motives other than those linked to the assessment of a negative effect on health and the environment […] or the need to avoid the involuntary presence of GMOs in other products.”

At a time when the EU is more worried about whether member states will keep using the Euro and pay down some of their debts, it is not surprising that Europe is letting countries go their own way on GMOs.

European countries are pretty much split down the middle on the issue.  Countries like Italy, Austria, and Hungary that have GMO bans will likely continue them.  EU countries like Spain, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic are examples of countries likely to embrace them.

Europe’s long ban has left it with just 100,000 hectares of GMO crops, mostly in Spain, compared to 134 million hectares planted around the world.

The EU’s “fast track” approach to the changes is likely to have everyone’s attention focused on the details.  The EU would retain some decision-making on overall GMO approvals, but countries would be free to decide how “co-existence” guidelines would be implemented.

Opponents fear it’s an end of the GMO-free (or nearly free) Europe, while the biotech industry is concerned about it introducing some unscientific concepts and legal uncertainly in the process.

John Dalli, health and consumer affairs commissioner for Maltese, wrote the proposed changes based on an Austrian-Dutch proposal.  Pledging to implement them were among the changes EU President Barroso pledged to make when he was elected last year.