By Charlie Dunmore
June 4 (Reuters) - The EU executive European Commission has drawn up plans for a radical overhaul of the 27-nation bloc's rules on genetically modified (GM) crop cultivation, according to sources, which if approved could see huge growth in plantings in Europe. Click for Reuters exclusive [ID:nLDE6520Q6]
Below are questions and answers the plans raises.
WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED?
* The plan set to be adopted in mid-July has two elements: "fast-track" technical guidelines immediately enabling member states to grow or ban GM crops as they choose, and a legislative change designed to confirm the new approach in EU law.
* The Commission hopes that by giving countries opposed to GM cultivation the option to ban it, they will end their opposition to approving new varieties for growing in the EU and unblock the paralysis in Europe's approval system.
* Approvals would still be granted at EU level following a scientific safety assessment, but member states would be free to ban cultivation at any time without the need for scientific justification, and the Commission will not intervene.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THE PLANS HAVE?
* If approved the proposals are likely to see rapid growth of GM cultivation in parts of Europe, particularly in countries seen as favourable to the technology such as Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
* They would also legally confirm cultivation bans in anti-GM countries such as Italy, Austria and Hungary, and raise the prospect of new national bans in the future should governments change their position on GM crops.
* Multinational biotech companies such as U.S. seed and chemical giant Monsanto (MON.N) and Swiss agro-chemicals firm Syngenta (SYNN.VX) could see lucrative new markets opening up in Europe, but countries' ability to ban cultivation at any time creates legal uncertainty and could hamper their business plans.
* Industry experts said new GM crops most likely to be planted in Europe in the coming years include a maize variety resistant to the corn root worm, and a fungal-resistant potato currently being trialled.
* New GM oilseed rape varieties could be available within a decade, and GM wheat with resistance to septoria disease could be developed within 10 to 20 years, they added.
WILL THE PLANS BE APPROVED?
* The "fast-track" guidelines would only need to be rubber-stamped by EU governments to take effect, which could happen within weeks of publication in mid-July, though countries such as France are thought to be strongly opposed to the plans.
* The legislative change is even more uncertain, as it must be approved by a qualified majority of EU governments and members of the European Parliament under the bloc's weighted voting system.
* The Commission believes it can restrict the scope of the legal review to its proposal alone, but EU lawmakers could try and open up the EU's entire GM policy for review, which could take several years and make the final outcome very uncertain.
HOW HAVE THE PLANS BEEN RECEIVED?
* The biotech industry has criticised the proposals for introducing unscientific concepts and legal uncertainty into the EU's approval system, and warn that different rules in different countries will disrupt the EU's internal market and lead to legal disputes.
* Environmentalists are also unhappy, because they fear an end to the EU's largely GM-free stance, which has seen commercial planting limited to less than 100,000 hectares to date, compared with 134 million hectares worldwide.
* The EU's trading partners are known to be watching developments closely, and could challenge the new rules in the World Trade Organisation if they percieve them as anti-science or a barrier to trade. (Compiled by Charlie Dunmore, Editing by Keiron Henderson)