(CN) – In a blow to EU nations seeking to ban or limit planting genetically modified crops within their borders, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that can only happen if the GMO crops are scientifically proven to be a serious risk to health or the environment.
The Luxembourg-based high court’s 6-page ruling has its roots in a 1998 decision by the European Commission authorizing the cultivation of MON 810, a genetically modified maize. The commission based its decision on findings by EU scientists that there was no reason to believe the crop would have adverse effects on health or the environment.
But in 2013, the Italian government asked the commission to ban MON 810 in light of research done by two research institutes there. The commission refused, noting more recent studies done by the European Food Safety Authority that found no cause for concern.
The Italian government forged ahead and banned the cultivation of MON 810, and prosecuted farmers who grew it despite the ban.
Some of those prosecuted appealed, leading an Italian court to ask the European Court of Justice whether something known as the “precautionary principle” – which an increasingly at-risk society can rely on to protect itself from the unintended consequences of rapid scientific progress and new technologies – justified Italy’s emergency ban on the GMO.
Following the opinion of its adviser earlier this year, the EU high court said Wednesday the precautionary principle and concerns about possible risks that do not yet have any basis in scientific fact are insufficient to justify member states’ bans of GMO crops.
The court said while the principle may be used to provisionally manage risks to food on an emergency basis, GMO foods have been thoroughly vetted by scientists and found to be save before they’re placed on the market.
In the absence of any risk to human or animal health or to the environment, neither the commission nor member states have the option to ban or limited the cultivation of MON 810, the court said.
Member states may, however, resort to emergency measures after informing the commission of the need to do so and having received no direction from the regulatory body, and may renew those measures so long as the commission has remained silent. In that situation, the emergency matters become a matter for the national court to decide whether they’re lawful, the EU high court ruled.