GM crops in Europe: divide and conquer

By Manuel Ruiz Rico

EU Member States will have the power to accept or prohibit the cultivation of GM crops within their borders. What will the consequences be?

On 13 January, by a large majority, the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted a regulation that had little impact but which is bound to change the whole picture of GM crops in Europe. The House gave the green light to Member States, empowering them individually to approve or ban the cultivation of GM crops in their national territories, rather than this being decided by the EU. Across the breadth of Europe, due to the broad social rejection of these crops, GM is virtually banned, as in fact only one crop of this type is planted: a Monsanto maize which was approved two decades ago in 1998. But everything could change from now on.

The widespread adoption of this new regulation in the European Parliament (480 votes in favour to 159 against and 58 abstentions) has come after five years of negotiations between the US and the EU to unclog the European approval mechanism which, in practical terms, had blocked GMs for 17 years. Once the new directive comes into force in the coming weeks, each of the 28 Member States will be able to decide for itself – which looks like being an opportunity for food biotechnology multinationals (particularly the world leader, Monsanto) to gradually encroach upon Europe with their crops. Divide and conquer.

One of the political groups which roundly rejected the vote in the European Parliament was the Greens. French MEP, José Bové, warned that day “in the short term, this change will allow multinationals like Monsanto to challenge national bans in the World Trade Organization, or, if TTIP is finally approved, in international arbitration courts”.

The veto in Europe – particularly by the French, Austrians and Germans – maintained a blockade against these crops across the entire European continent, however the Greens and the European environmental NGOs fear that from now on multinationals will gradually be able to introduce their crops, given that they now have to deal with States directly, instead of the EU as a whole. Thus, there are now many more windows open to get into the European countryside.

Apart from France and Germany, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Italy have also so far adopted safeguard measures prohibiting cultivation on their territory. But in contrast to these, governments such as the British and the Dutch have always declared that they would like to see more varieties of these crops on their land, while other, agriculturally very prominent, countries like Spain may be inclined towards the entry of GM crops. Certainly, the industry as a whole would be very interested in Spain’s extensive cultivatable surface area.

Up till now the approval process for a GM crop had to go through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) based in Parma, Italy. If the crop in question received the agency approval, the process was then passed on to the European Commission, which had to give a definitive ruling within three months. Approval came only in the case of a qualified majority.

EASA has approved only eight GM crops – the last of these in 2005 – however the broad climate of social rejection in Europe has led the Commission to refuse authorization, especially due to the blockade from France and Germany.

This most recent GM crop approved by the EFSA in 2005 was the Amflora potato, developed by the German company, BASF. In 2010 the Commission gave approval for cultivation in Europe, however, only two years later the company announced it was pulling out of production due to strong social resistance to the product. All told, less than 300 hectares were actually grown between Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic put together.

MON810 Monsanto maize is therefore the only GM crop currently grown in the EU. According to European official figures, some 130,000 hectares of this maize is planted; 90% of which is in Spain (the rest in Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic). Nevertheless, environmental groups like Friends of the Earth have questioned the accuracy of the source of the Spanish figures. According to the NGO, the real figure would be more like 70,000 hectares of MON810 maize in Spain.

Undoubtedly, all these figures could escalate from now on and opponents of GM crops expect that the multinationals in this sector (in particular, Monsanto) will strengthen their pressure (previously only focussed on one single point, although very powerfully: the EU) to gradually lift the veto, country by country.

“This new scheme involves re-nationalizing authorization for GM crops and greater power for multinationals, rather than a European regulatory framework to fight for the public interest right across the European continent,” explains Florent Marcellesi, EQUO spokesman in the European Parliament.

“Countries opposed to genetic modification are given the carrot of being able to pass it or not, however the regulation adopted by the Parliament fails to give them a legally reliable basis to do so. On the contrary, it strengthens the power of multinationals by opening the door for them to denounce countries that reject GMs before an arbitration court or the World Trade Organization”, adds Marcellesi.

In the opposite camp, the Belgian Liberal MEP, Frédérique Ries, promoter of this measure, said on the day it was passed that “Europe is a legal jungle and a European Council which is very reluctant to approve GMs, so this agreement will give more flexibility and freedom to Member States”, he argued.

Mute Schimpf, Head of Food at Friends of the Earth Europe, admits that the new regulation “provides a massive opportunity for national governments to hear the voice of its citizens and shut the door firmly on biotech crops”, but at the same time warns that this agreement could become “carte blanche for approving new GM crops”.

While new scenarios, the position of each Member State, and the fears generated by the decision taken by the EP become a reality – or not – one aspect is definitely clear, and that is the position of European citizens.

The last Eurobarometer on GMs shows definitively that only 18% of Europeans believe they are safe for future generations, as compared to 61% who think otherwise. In Spain, the rejection of GMs, although somewhat less than in Europe, according to this survey, is still very high: 53%.

From now on, therefore, the Member States, rather than looking to Brussels or EASA, will need to focus more than ever on public opinion in their respective countries when deciding whether or not to give the green light to GMs nationally. It is they that have the hot potato now.

Manuel Ruiz Rico works as a freelance journalist in Brussels.

Published by:



esglobal es el primer medio digital en español para quienes están interesados en entender lo que ocurre en este mundo cada vez más complejo. No damos noticias; ofrecemos análisis y reflexión. Intentamos siempre descubrir el otro lado de las cosas, sorprender en el qué y en el cómo contamos lo que ocurre, y lo que podría ocurrir, tratando de anticipar tendencias, de exponer posibles consecuencias. Queremos complementar, de un modo más pausado, la avalancha de información que nos inunda el día a día.

Nuestro idioma es el español, aunque nuestros autores proceden de los lugares más diversos. Aspiramos a trasladar a nuestros lectores los diferentes modos de ver un mundo con realidades muy diversas, y a servir de altavoz a aquellos que quieren difundir sus ideas y su conocimiento en español.

A nuestros lectores les une una curiosidad global. Creemos en el intercambio abierto de opiniones –por algo somos un medio interactivo- siempre dentro del respeto a una discrepancia civilizada.

Heredera de Foreign Policy en españolesglobal es editada por la Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE).

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Legal note

1.    Terms and Conditions

2.    Privacy Policy

3.    Cookies Policy


1.    Terms and Conditions

Contact data for the web owner

This website has been created by KATOIKOS to promote their products and services.

– Name: Katoikos, S.L

– Co. tax Code:  B87123162

– Address:  Calle Campomanes 10, 28013  Madrid (SPAIN)

Registration details: Registered in the Commercial Register of Madrid.

Intellectual and Industrial Property

The various elements of this page, and website as a whole, are protected by Spanish legislation on intellectual and industrial property. The trademarks, trade names or logos appearing on this website are the property of the company, or, where appropriate, of third parties, and are protected by Trademarks Law, and of which KATOIKOS holds the legitimate license.

The information provided may not be used for commercial or public purposes, or modified. If the user downloads materials for personal and non-commercial use, warnings shall be kept about copyright and trademarks. To download and use the company logo that appears on the website, prior authorization is required.

Any unauthorised use of the images may violate copyright laws, trademark laws, the laws of privacy and publicity, and communications regulations and statutes.

Liability for Damage

KATOIKOS assumes no liability for damages you may suffer when browsing the web or in the use of computer applications that are part of it. Neither are warranties given as to the correction of malfunctions or updating of content.

Content you share with us

We may include features on this website that allow you to share your content with us and other users of the site. Please note that by sharing content it may become publicly accessible. You grant to Katoikos a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license, without compensation to you:

 (a) to use, reproduce, distribute, adapt (including without limitation edit, modify, translate, and reformat), derive, transmit, display and perform, publicly or otherwise, such content, in any media now known or hereafter developed, for Kaotikos’ business purposes, and

 (b) to sublicense the foregoing rights, through multiple tiers, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. The foregoing licenses shall survive any termination of your use of the site, as further described below.

For all of the content you share through the site, you represent and warrant that you have all rights necessary for you to grant these licenses, and that such content, and your provision or creation thereof through the site, complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations and does not infringe or otherwise violate the copyright, trademark, trade secret, privacy or other intellectual property or other rights of any third party, and is furthermore free from viruses and other malware.

Rules of Conduct

When using this website and/or sharing content with us, you are prohibited from posting or transmitting :

1. any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, racist, obscene, scandalous, deceptive, false, fraudulent, inflammatory or profane material or any material that could constitute or encourage conduct that would be considered a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability, or otherwise violate any law.
2. Any virus, worm, Trojan horse, Easter egg, time bomb, spyware or other computer code, file, or program that is harmful or invasive or may or is intended to damage or hijack the operation of, or to monitor the use of, any hardware, software or equipment;
3. Any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letter,” “pyramid scheme” or investment opportunity, or any other form of solicitation; and
4. Any material non-public information about a person or a company without the proper authorization to do so.

In addition, you will not:

1. Use this website for any fraudulent or unlawful purpose;
2. Interfere with or disrupt the operation of the website or the servers or networks used to make the website available; or violate any requirements, procedures, policies or regulations of such networks;
3. Access or use this website through any technology or means other than those expressly designated by us.
4. Restrict or inhibit any other person from using this website (including by hacking or defacing any portion of the website);
5. Except as expressly permitted by applicable law, modify, adapt, translate, reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble any portion of this website.
6. Remove any copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights notice from this website.
7. Frame or mirror any part of the webiste without our express prior written consent;
8. Create a database by systematically downloading and storing all or any content;
9. Use any robot, spider, site search/retrieval application or other manual or automatic device to retrieve, index, “scrape,” “data mine” or in any way reproduce or circumvent the navigational structure or presentation of this website, without our express prior written consent.


Kaotikos  reserves the right to remove any messages or statements or cancel any links.

This site may include hyperlinks to other web sites that are not owned or controlled by Katoikos. Katoikos has no control over, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices of any third party websites.

Content may be hosted on YouTube or other social media. Those operate their own set of terms and conditions and privacy policy which are separate to the ones presented on this website. Katoikos no control over and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices on YouTube or other social media.

 The right to terminate your access

Katoikos reserves the right to terminate your access to this website at any time if you do not comply with these Terms and Conditions or you infringe Kaotikos’ rights in the content provided on this website.

Governing Law

These Terms and Conditions are governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Spain, without regard to its choice of law provisions.  You agree to the exclusive jurisdiction by the courts of Spain.

Changes to the Terms

Katoikos reserves the right to make changes to the Terms and Conditions from time to time. You acknowledge and agree that your continued access to or use of this website will constitute your acceptance of such changes.

2.    Privacy Policy

Kaotikos takes the protection of your personal data very seriously and collects, processes and uses your data only in accordance with the standards of the legal data protection regulations.

Data is collected, processed and used with technologyes of the provider web trends for marketing and optimisation purposes and also for sending news and information you may be interested in by any electronic services, such as email or SMS.

Our website user’s database is registered at the Spanish Agency of Data Protection. You have the rights of access, rectification, deletion and opposition, regulated in articles 14 to 16 of the LOPD.

For this, please write to:

KATOIKOS (Data Protection) Calle Campomanes 10, 28013, Madrid (SPAIN)

Or send an email to Your ID will be requested for these issues.

3.    Cookies Policy

This site, like many others, uses small files called cookies to help us customise your experience. Find out more about cookies and how you can control them.

This page contains information on what ‘cookies’ are, the cookies used by the Kaotikos’ website and how to switch cookies off in your browser.

If it does not provide the information you were looking for, or you have any further questions about the use of cookies on the Katoikos’s website, please email

What are ‘cookies’?

‘Cookies’ are small text files that are stored by the browser (for example, Internet Explorer or Safari) on your computer or mobile phone. They allow websites to store things like user preferences. You can think of cookies as providing a ‘memory’ for the website, so that it can recognise you when you come back and respond appropriately.

How does the Katoikos’s website use cookies?

A visit to a page on the Kaotikos’s website may generate the following type of cookies: Anonymous analytics cookies.

This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc., a Delaware company whose main office is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View (California), CA 94043, USA (“Google”).

Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States. Google will use this information on our behalf in order to track your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage. Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google.

Anonymous analytics cookies

Cookier Name Origin Aim End
__utma Google Analysis 2 years since set –up or update
__utmb Google Analysis 30 minutes since set –up or update
__utmc Google Analysis When browser sesión ends
_utmt Google Analysis 10 minutes since set –up or update
__utmz Google Analysis 6 months since set –up or update

How do I turn cookies off?

It is usually possible to stop your browser accepting cookies, or to stop it accepting cookies from a particular website. All modern browsers allow you to change your cookie settings. You can usually find these settings in the ‘options’ or ‘preferences’ menu of your browser. To understand these settings, the following links may be helpful, or you can use the ‘Help’ option in your browser for more details.

Cookie settings in Internet Explorer
Cookie settings in Firefox
Cookie settings in Chrome
Cookie settings in Safari web and iOS.


© 2020 Katoikos, all rights are reserved. Developed by eMutation | New Media

Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
Your information will never shared with a third party.
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)
Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
Your information will never shared with a third party.
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)