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By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi


On March 2, 2015, European Union (EU) Ministers approved a Directive previously approved by the European Parliament with regard to genetically modified organisms (GMO). EU Directive 2010/0208, entitled Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/18/EC as regards the possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territory, will allow individual Member States to determine whether they will allow, ban, or otherwise restrict the cultivation of GMOs, even in cases where the EU has authorized use of a GMO following the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) assessment of the risks to health and the environment.

Specifically, the Directive provides: “a Member State may adopt measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation in all or part of its territory of a GMO, or of a group of GMOs defined by crop or trait, once authorised in accordance with Part C of this Directive or with Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003, provided that such measures are in conformity with Union law, reasoned, proportional and non-discriminatory and, in addition, are based on compelling grounds.” The grounds stated include those related to:

* Environmental policy objectives;
* Town and country planning;
* Land use;
* Socio-economic impacts;
* Avoidance of GMO presence in other products without prejudice to Article 26a;
* Agricultural policy objectives; and
* Public policy.

A Member State also can seek to have all or part of its territory excluded from the geographical scope during the authorization procedure for a GMO.

The passage of this Directive is the culmination of years of negotiations between EU Member States that have disagreed over the cultivation of GMOs in their territories. The new rules, which will allow EU countries to opt-out from otherwise approved EU GMOs, are sure to be controversial as Member States, industry, farmers, and the public work out details related to the potentially non-scientific grounds that a particular Member State relies upon in restricting or banning use of a GMO, and as Member States develop measures that allowed GMOs must take to avoid “possible cross-border contamination.”

The legislation will enter into force following its publication in the Official Journal of the EU, which is expected in Spring 2015.

As various members of the EU continue to oppose production of GMO crops, these policies will remain trade irritants to the U.S. and other countries where GMO crops have been widely adopted. This comes as trade negotiations are ongoing and the EU allowance of trade barriers based on the “precautionary principle” remains a major point of disagreement between the EU and the U.S. (with its reliance on “science-based risk assessment policies”). This latest development, which further allows EU Member States to reject GMO crops under various criteria, will not make resolving any current or future trade disagreements any easier.