EU moves step closer to law on national GMO crop bans

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU politicians on Tuesday backed a plan to allow nations to ban genetically modified crops on their soil even if they are given approval to be grown in the European Union, raising the chance their use will remain limited on the continent. Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion, with opposition in many countries including France and Germany, while Britain favors them. A previous compromise endorsed this year by EU ministers would have required negotiation with the relevant companies if a nation wanted to ban a GM crop in the event it had been approved for EU-wide use. The plan voted through parliament on Tuesday would leave out that stage and allows member states to ban GM crops on environmental grounds. It drew praise from GM opponents. "Today's vote would give European countries a legally solid right to ban GM cultivation in their territory, making it difficult for the biotech industry to challenge such bans in court," Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, said. Left-leaning politicians also welcomed Tuesday's vote, which kicks off formal negotiations on a legal text, saying it strengthened the grounds for opting out of any GM cultivation. Conservatives were opposed. "The parliament's position on GM cultivation risks inflicting untold damage to robust, science-based policymaking in Europe. We strongly oppose these proposals and voted against them today. We will continue to oppose them," Julie Girling, environment spokeswoman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said. The executive European Commission said in a statement it was confident the law could be in place in 2015, once it had received final endorsement from the European Parliament and member states. GM cultivation has provoked opposition in Europe for years. An earlier attempt to agree a compromise on GM cultivation failed in 2012, when EU ministers were unable to agree. So far, EU authorities have approved only two GM crops for commercial cultivation, and one was later blocked by a court. That leaves Monsanto's GM maize MON810 as the only GM crop grown in Europe, where it has been cultivated in Spain and Portugal for a decade. (Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Dale Hudson)