Ministers debated the European Commission's indicative list of grounds upon which member states could restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation.
The list is part of a "package" of proposals overhauling the bloc's policy on GM crop cultivation, tabled by the EU executive last summer. The proposals have sparked a wave of criticism, with stakeholders fearing they could lead to fragmentation of the internal market and legal uncertainty for farmers.
Some of the proposals are also deemed incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. However, after yesterday's ministerial discussions, Sándor Fazekas, Hungarian minister for rural development, insisted that it would be possible to make progress by restricting or prohibiting GMO cultivation in EU countries, or particular regions, for "well-grounded reasons".
The Commission's indicative list of well-grounded reasons includes public morality - such as religious, philosophical and ethical concerns over GM technology - public order and avoiding GM contamination of other products or GM-free schemes.
Socio-economic analysis due next month
Several ministers stressed that further work is necessary to assess the socio-economic impact of the coexistence of GM and conventional crops.
Back in 2009, a joint European Commission and member-state reflection group was launched to define and consider the socio-economic implications of placing GM crops on the market - such as a cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of the entry of GMO seeds into the agricultural system.
According to the Commission, the socio-economic assessment will be presented in April.
NGO report highlights hidden cost of GM crops
While official EU research concludes that the segregation of GM crops from conventional products could increase non-GM food and feed products' costs by up to 13%, Friends of the Earth Europe, an environmental NGO, argues in a new briefing paper that the real figure is far higher.
According to the group, the official research does not take into account costs incurred in maintaining the separation between transgenic and conventional crops throughout the whole food production chain, ranging from farming to storage, transport, grain handling, mills and food processors.
It argues that it is unfair that "the costs of segregation, traceability systems and testing currently fall on the conventional and organic sectors," and calls for the establishment of strict and compulsory anti-contamination measures - the costs of which should be covered by "the polluters".