Italy: National GM crop situation

Italy: National bans of GM crops

Italy prohibits the cultivation of maize MON 810. An emergency measure to the European Commission was notified in March 2013. On its basis in July 2013 the Italian government issued a decree banning the cultivation of the genetically modified maize line MON810 for 18 months. The scientific dossier supporting this emergency measure was examined by EFSA on 24 September 2013 who rejected the scientific evidence submitted. For years Italy implemented a de facto moratoria on GM crops trough a national authorisation procedure that the European Court of Justice stated illegal.

Genetically modified maize line MON810

Use: Cultivation, Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003

  • Ban: On 29 March 2013 Italy provided to the European Commission a scientific argumentation in support of the request for the prohibition of the placing on the market of the genetically modified maize MON 810 according to Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 in all the EU. This communication was followed by the adoption on 12 July 2013 of a national decree banning genetically modified maize MON 810. The decree entered into force on 13 August 2013 and bans the cultivation of MON 810 for 18 months. The same Ministry of Agriculture admitted that this decree may be inconsistent with the European Law but also added that it is unlikely that the European Commission would open an infringement procedure against Italy since in previous alike cases the European Commission did not take any action. The administrative court of Rome confirmed the legitimacy of the decree on 9 April 2014 although this ruling did not examine any potential inconsistencies between the decree and the European Law. In June 2014 the Italian government integrated the national decree of July 2013 by punishing the cultivation of MON 810 with sanctions.
  • EFSA: On 29 May 2013, the European Commission requested the European Food Safety Authority to assess the supporting documentation submitted by Italy. On 24 September the EFSA GMO Panel concluded (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/it/efsajournal/doc/3371.pdf) that, based on the documentation submitted by Italy, there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment, that would support the notification of an emergency measure under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and that would invalidate its previous risk assessments of maize MON 810.

Reactions European Commission, European Court of Justice, national courts

  • No submission to Member States Committee: The Italian emergency measure was adopted without fully following the procedure under article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003. According to this article the European Commission is the only body which is competent to adopt emergency measures. Member States have a residual competence and therefore they can adopt interim measures only in the case the Commission has failed to act. The interim measure adopted by the Members State must then be approved by the other Member States. The Italian decree of July 2013 was adopted before the opinion of EFSA. In addition the European Commission did not submit the Italian measure to the other Member States for approval.
  • De facto moratoria on GM crops trough a national authorisation procedure: The Italian Department of Agriculture also imposed on farmers to apply for an authorization to cultivate GM crops. This national authorisation was never granted to farmers despite several requests had been made. The mechanism of the authorisation has worked as an implicit moratoria on GM crops since 2001.
  • ECJ rulings on the national authorisation: Two rulings of the European Court of Justice state that the Italian national authorisation for the cultivation of GM crops is illegal.
    Case C‑36/11,Pioneer Hi Bred Italia Srl v Ministero delle Politiche agricole alimentari e forestali
    Case C-542/12 Criminal proceedings against Giorgio Fidenato

General situation for GM crops in Italy

Initial survey conducted by FuturAgra (www.futuragra.it), and Dr. Piero A. Morandini, University of Milan, Italy

General situation for GM crops in Italy

In Italy, small, family-operated farms are the dominant production unit, and less than 5 per cent of the active population is in farming. The agricultural sector has seen little growth in recent decades, while imports have increased.

Key crops

Maize (1.2 million ha); durum wheat (1.1 million ha); bread wheat (448 245 ha); barley (253 104 ha); soya bean (159 511 ha). Insect pests (European corn borer, rootworms) are the principal constraint to maize production, while fungal diseases (e.g., fusarium) affect wheat productivity, with average yield losses of 10 per cent.

R&D efforts

Given the current regulatory situation in Italy (see below), crop production constraints including the ones mentioned above are primarily addressed through conventional plant breeding efforts, supported by marker-assisted selection.

Regulatory situation

A de facto moratorium has been in place since 2001. While this is not an official policy position, it is based on a complex, prohibitive patchwork of binding rules and administrative practices. Moreover, there is fragmentation and an unclear division of responsibilities between central government, local regional governments and joint committees formed by regional and state representatives. In addition to the EU Directives, Italy imposed additional environmental risk assessment requirements for field trials, making it impossible to conduct such trials and move towards commercial GM crop cultivation.

Experiences of farmers

No commercial cultivation of GM crops is possible in Italy. Farmers’ organizations such as FuturAgra are actively involved in creating broader awareness around agricultural biotechnology, and support among other things the need to conduct experimental field trials. Individual farmers are challenging the government’s policies by planting GM maize, asserting that cultivation is allowed under EU Directives.