By Stefanos Evripidou
ENVIRONMENT Minister Nicos Kouyialis yesterday rejected opposition parties’ criticism that the agreement reached by EU ministers on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) opens the door to GM cultivation in Cyprus, and put it down to “misinformation”.
On Thursday, the EU Council of Environment Ministers reached a compromise deal on GMOs, giving member states the right to decide whether to allow the cultivation of GMOs in their national territory.
Kouyialis, who represented Cyprus at the meeting, welcomed the agreement on the restriction and prohibition of GMO cultivation, noting that after years of intense negotiations “we agreed on the current text, because we want Cyprus to be free of genetically modified organisms”.
He clarified that keeping Cyprus a GM-free zone “is a long standing position of this government”.
The Cypriot minister said Thursday’s agreement gives the right to member states to decide on the cultivation of GMOs, describing it as “a very good basis for the adoption of an effective and legally binding tool to ban GMOs”.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU environment ministers from 26 of the 28 member states backed the new proposal, which still needs approval from the European Parliament. Only Belgium and Luxembourg abstained.
France, whose constitutional court has already issued a ruling to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize, welcomed the compromise proposal, as did Britain, a supporter of GM crops.
The European Green Party, meanwhile, described the deal as “a Trojan horse” that would open the door to GM crops across Europe.
Commenting on the compromise proposal of the Greek EU Presidency, Greek Environment Minister Yannis Maniatis said Greece will not allow GMO cultivation within its territory, even if it’s the only country in the world to enforce such a decision.
Under the proposal, the European Commission, would retain the right to ban or approve any particular GM crop throughout the EU on the basis of a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which will be consulted on whether there are any risks to human health and the environment.
But in the cases where the Commission approves a crop, individual states could ask for a ban and would also have the right to ask the Commission to request companies exclude them from any new requests for approval for a GM crop.
The Green Party yesterday censured the Cypriot minister for ignoring a unanimous resolution passed by parliament last Thursday against the EU proposal.
“This agreement effectively opens the way for the cultivation of GMO crops in Europe, a demand of the multinationals selling modified seeds for 15 years,” it said.
The party said it would seek to pass a resolution in parliament prohibiting the import of GMO products and declare the country a GM-free zone.
AKEL’s environment officer Christina Nicolaou also slammed the government for ignoring parliament and the environmentalists over GMOs.
She argued that the so-called safeguard clauses in the new proposal in essence do not guarantee any right for Cyprus to remain a GMO-free zone, but instead leave the door open for multinationals to take the country to court for blocking their work.
In an announcement, the Cyprus Federation of Environmental Organisations expressed concern about the new regulation approved by the EU Council, particularly “the risk of pressure being put on the Cypriot state to licence the cultivation of GM crops”.
It added: “The forthcoming regulation does not protect Cyprus from GM crops.”
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail last night from abroad, Kouyialis rejected the
criticism, saying member states have the right to cite a number of reasons for not accepting GM crops, without the burden of having to prove that it’s harmful.
The reasons available include agricultural policy, social policy, environmental policy, wanting to avoid infecting other crops; town and country planning and land use.
What the EU ministers did was take an existing regulation which allows GM cultivation and amended it to allow the prohibition of GM cultivation, said Kouyialis.
“What we have today is much better than what we had yesterday,” he said.
He dismissed local criticism of the proposal as “huge misinformation”.
Asked whether making Cyprus a GM-free zone would require cooperation with the Turkish Cypriot authorities in the occupied areas, Kouyialis said the government would protect the country from GM crops in the areas where it has control to do so.