Europe's farm ministers Monday rejected a controversial EU proposal allowing member states to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban Genetically Modified crops as a way out of deadlock.
With the continent divided on genetically modified crops, the European Commission proposed giving nations the individual freedom to ban or grow GM crops while allowing free circulation of GM goods in line with WTO rules.
But France and Italy, backed by big farming nations including Germany and Spain, refused the idea of Brussels shifting the onus onto member states, saying, like "The Three Musketeers", that the rule must be "all for one, one for all."
"Italy does not support the proposal ... Each for himself undermines the foundations of the common agricultural policy (CAP)," said Italy's farm minister Giancarlo Galan.
"France wants a common decision," agreed French minister Bruno Lemaire. "Opting for national decision-making would give a wrong signal to European citizens and a wrong signal for the common agricultural policy."
Sabine Laruelle, agriculture minister for Belgium which currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc, said "a great majority of countries have many queries about the relevance of giving more power to the states.
"We won't find a compromise or consensus in just a couple of months," she added.
A final decision on the European Commission plan now rests with EU environment ministers, who meet October 14 in Luxembourg, but environment chiefs have traditionally taken a tougher stance than their farming counterparts on what detractors call "Frankenfoods."
GM cultivation remains relatively limited in the EU, with six member states banning Monsanto's Mon 810 maize -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg -- and Poland banning all GM crops.
To give opponents a legal basis against GMs, EU Health Commissioner John Dalli had suggested that over and above EU-wide scientific restrictions, nations be able to ban them across all or part of their territory for socioeconomic, ethical or moral reasons.
The commission, he said recently, was neither for nor against GMs.
"But in today's world, they are a reality," he said. "Europe cannot stand idle and deny itself the political responsibility to take decisions and implement a policy of responsible innovation."
Europe has fallen behind the rest of the world amid public concerns over the potential effects of GM crops.
While GM crops were cultivated worldwide in 2009 on 134 million hectares (331 million acres), the maize seed developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, MON 810, was grown on fewer than 95,000 hectares of land in the EU last year, down from almost 107,000 hectares in 2008.
Opponents of GM foods fear they would inevitably contaminate other crops and maintain that there is no definitive evidence of their safety.
Supporters argue that such crops have higher yields, resist pests and disease better and require less fertiliser and pesticide. They say farmers should be given the freedom to choose whether they want to plant GM crops.
The commission in March gave a green light to a GM potato developed by German group BASF, the Amflora, grown in the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden but only for industrial uses for its starch content.
Source: AFP Global Edition