ECJ confirms farmers’ right to cultivate GM maize
By Jonna Sopinska | Friday 07 September 2012
The EU Court of Justice has clarified the legal requirements for the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as the MON 810 maize varieties. In a judgement in Case C-36/11, issued on 6 September, the court ruled that member states’ authorities cannot prohibit “in a general manner the cultivation on their territory of such GMOs pending the adoption of coexistence measures”. It underlined that the cultivation of GMOs cannot be made subject to an additional national authorisation procedure when their use and marketing is already authorised pursuant to relevant EU legislation (Article 20 of Regulation No 1829/2003) and when those GMOs have been accepted for inclusion in the common catalogue provided for in Directive 2002/53.
The ruling concerns a request by the Italian company Pioneer Hi-Bred Italia Srl for an annulment of the decision taken by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, in which it refused to consider the company’s application for authorisation to cultivate hybrids of genetically modified maize already listed in the common catalogue due to the lack of so-called coexistence measures. Pioneer, which specialises in the global production and distribution of conventional and genetically modified seeds, has challenged the ministry’s decisionbefore the Council of State. The Italian legal-administrative consultative body referred the case to the EU Court of Justice.
Pioneer welcomed the ruling. Paolo Marchesini, government, public and regulatory affairs manager, Southern Europe, expressed hope that following the ECJ judgement, “the current ban on cultivation, denying Italian farmers the free choice to grow GM or conventional crops, as allowed by EU legislation, is going to be removed soon”.
The court judgement was also welcomed by the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio), which promotes an innovative and dynamic biotechnology-based industry in Europe. “Today’s ruling by the highest court in the European Union again confirms that national bans on GM crops are not legally defendable,” Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, EuropaBio’s director of green biotechnology Europe, said in a statement, issued on 7 September. He recalled “a similar decision by the ECJ on the illegal French cultivation ban” taken in 2011 and concluded that “farmers’ rights to cultivate approved GM crops have to be respected”.
Maize is the only GM crop that is grown commercially in the EU. The first lines of GM maize were approved in the EU in 1997. Spain became Europe’s first country to introduce it. Today, nearly 80,000 hectares of Spanish maize production is genetically modified. In addition, production is now taking place to a lesser extent in the Czech Republic, Portugal and Germany. Cultivation of GM maize in the EU is subject to strict rules preventing the uncontrolled mixing of GM and conventional maize.