(CN) - EU nations may soon be able to restrict or completely ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in their territories under a bill approved by a key committee of lawmakers there Wednesday.
The Council of the European Union's committee of permanent representatives approved the draft bill after reaching an agreement with representatives from the European Parliament and the European Commission last week - and after five years of legal wrangling with balancing EU policy, member-state sovereignty and public outcry over the safety of genetically engineered organisms in the food chain.
Earlier this year, the council's environmental ministers endorsed a plan to let member states opt out of any future GMO approvals by the EU. That agreement established a nonexhaustive list of possible grounds - including environmental, socioeconomic, zoning and public policy - member states can use to restrict or ban GMOs.
Currently, member states only have the option to restrict GMOs in the case of an emergency or with new evidence showing that a crop poses a danger to human or environmental health.
But under the bill greenlighted Wednesday, EU nations will be able to have future GMO approvals amended geographically to keep the crops out of their territories. They will also be able to use the nonexhaustive list approved by the environmental members to impose a full, nationwide ban on GMOs if they so choose.
Member states that allow GMOs will also have to prevent cross-pollination of crops in neighboring nations that have banned the organisms under the proposal.
"The green light to the directive is a very significant step towards a long-awaited goal: the full sovereignty of member states to allow, or not, cultivation of GMOs on their territories," said Italian environment minister and council president Gian Luca Galletti. "The fruitful cooperation of the Italian presidency with the European Parliament and the commission has led to a coherent and fair text that provides a sound legal basis ensuring member states' freedom of choice on GMOs. This is the approach we always promoted, in the best interest of agricultural producers and citizens."
Both the full council and parliament must approve the bill in votes expected early next year. If they do, the law will go into effect in 2015.
Europe's GMO market is already the most regulated in the world, and so far only one genetically modified crop is grown commercially there: an insect-resistant corn developed by GMO kingpin Monsanto, on only 247,000 acres of farmland.
In the United States, lawmakers - and courts - have long welcomed GMO crops with open arms. Farmers have converted over 40 percent of U.S. cropland - 169 million acres in 2013 - to GMO plantings, growing 45 percent of all biotech crops worldwide.
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