New EU rules on the cultivation of GM crops have been slammed by food and farming groups as a wholesale failure to bring clarity to the issue.

The European Commission this week announced what it claimed was a more “flexible approach” to GMO cultivation in Europe. It has proposed that, in future, European member states should be allowed to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation on grounds other than health or the environment.

However, the agricultural industry claims that, in issuing the proposals, the Commission has shrugged off the chance to make a progressive decision on GM once and for all, risking the sector’s ability to compete with global players.

The EU had failed to empower pro-GM countries but had made it easier for those countries who wished to ban GM, said Dr Julian Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.

“Today’s decision will create legal uncertainty for farmers and set the clock back in the development of solutions to the challenges facing European agriculture,” he said. In areas of the world where producers did not face the same challenges as in Europe, GM had helped make production more competitive and reduced crops’ carbon footprint. “Yesterday should have been a big day in the scheme of things but unfortunately, it’s not delivering what it says on the tin.”

The Commission had absolved itself of any responsibility on a highly sensitive issue, added the NFU. “Instead of giving reassurances to support an effective and rigorous authorisation process for GM across the EU, this is all about enabling countries to ban the growing of GM crops,” said Dr Helen Ferrier, NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser.

European farmer organisation Copa-Cogeca warned that the Commission’s stance threatens to cause widespread confusion throughout the EU. “Farmers may face arbitrary, non-scientific decisions by their competent national authorities,” a spokesman said.