(CN) - The European Union moved a step closer to tighter controls on genetically modified organisms, after the EU Council voted Wednesday to give member states the power to restrict or prohibit GMOs for any reason.
Last month, EU environmental ministers announced
an agreement that would allow member states to opt out of GMO cultivation within their borders using a nonexhaustive list of possible grounds including environmental, socioeconomic, zoning and public policy reasons.
The full council signed off on the agreement Wednesday - with Belgium and Luxembourg abstaining - the culmination of nearly five years of legal wrangling which began after 13 member states demanded that regulators either ban or restrict GMOs within their territories regardless of official EU policy.
The bill next heads to the European Parliament, which is expected to take up the issue during its autumn session.
Lawmakers credited public outcry with spurring them to action after a tepid initial response to the issue in the council in 2009. A bungled attempt
by the European Commission to approve a genetically modified potato - by ignoring the EU food-safety agency's deep and published doubts about the potato's safety - also led to deeper support of member-state autonomy on the GMO issue.
Already, Europe's GMO market is the most regulated in the world, and so far only one genetically modified crop is grown commercially there: an insect-resistant corn developed by GMO kingpin Monsanto, on only 247,000 acres of farmland.
In the United States, lawmakers - and courts - have long welcomed GMO crops with open arms. Farmers have converted over 40 percent of U.S. cropland - 170 million acres in 2012 - to GMO plantings, growing 45 percent of all biotech crops worldwide.