North East MEPs were among those to vote for changes to a European directive that mean member states will have the power to allow, limit or ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops.
The move, which has been labelled “unscientific and unacceptable” by the NFU, was passed by 480 votes to 159 in the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.
Among those in favour were North East Labour MEPs Paul Brannen and Judith Kirton-Darling. UKIP’s Jonathan Arnott, the third North East MEP, abstained on the grounds he could not agree with all the measures put forward in the ‘bloc voting’ system.
The new rules, due to come into force in the spring, follows four years of talks on the matter.
Although the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) referred to will have passed safety assessments and gained EU-wide regulatory approval, national governments will be able to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of particular plants or groups of plants.
Bans can be justified using on a variety of grounds, including environmental policy, town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, avoidance of GMO presence in other products, agricultural policy or public policy
Mandatory coexistence measures will also be put in place in border areas of member states in which GMOs are grown to avoid cross-border contamination into those where cultivation is prohibited.
Following the vote, the NFU said Europe was sending “anti-technology signals to the rest of the world”, threatening the single market and going against WTO principles.
In the statement, the organisation said: “We are concerned that the resulting legal uncertainties may further discourage seed companies from investing in UK-relevant crop biotechnology, putting our farmers at a disadvantage.
“It seems that these new rules are all about restricting agricultural innovation and limiting competitiveness rather than enabling more European farmers to benefit from biotechnology any time soon.”
Mr Brannen, who is Labour’s European spokesperson on agriculture, however, said the move was a response to environmental concerns, which should reassure the “job-generating organic sector”.
“We have voted to give national governments the possibility of limiting or banning the cultivation of genetically modified crops on their territory,” he said.
“In addition, this deal provides for strengthened environmental impact assessment of new GMOs as well as more robust coexistence measures for better management between GM and non-GM crops.
“These new measures are welcome news for those who care about the environment, as they will provide better safeguards against unwanted influence of agribusiness or biotech companies by weakening their role in the authorisation process for new GMOs.
“Labour MEPs supported this deal because it introduces new rules on environmental impact assessment and coexistence measures which will contribute to better management of different crops throughout the EU, responding to environmental concerns.
“This should be also good news for the fast growing, environmentally friendly and job-generating organic sector which cannot afford to be contaminated by GM crops.”
Jonathan Arnott, UKIP’s North East MEP, said “The vote surrounding GM crops contained 51 amendments. Unfortunately, due to the undemocratic ‘bloc voting’ system within the European Parliament, a vote for this amendment would also have been a vote for the other 50 - some of which would have been detrimental to the UK taxpayer.
“As a result, I felt I had no choice but to abstain on the vote, despite supporting the principle of allowing members states to restrict GM crops if they so wish.”