In a ruling issued on 6 September 2012, the EU Court of Justice clarified the legal requirements for the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In its judgement in Case C-36/11, the Court ruled that Member States’ authorities cannot subject the cultivation of GMOs to an additional national authorisation procedure when their use and marketing is already authorised pursuant to relevant EU legislation and when those GMOs have been accepted for inclusion in the EU's common catalogue. The possibility for Member States to take measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products does not entitle them to prohibit in a general manner the cultivation on their territory of such GMOs pending the adoption of coexistence measures aimed at avoiding the unintended presence of GMOs in other crops.
The ruling was delivered in a dispute between Pioneer Hi Bred Italia Srl, a company specialising in the global production and distribution of conventional and genetically modified seeds, and the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. The Ministry informed Pioneer that, pending the adoption by the regions of rules to ensure the coexistence of conventional, organic and genetically modified crops according to Article 26a of Directive 2001/18, it could not consider the company’s application for authorisation to cultivate hybrids of genetically modified maize derived from MON 810. The hybrids, however, were already authorised by the European Commission on the basis of Article 20 of Regulation 1829/2003 and they are listed in the common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species (‘the common catalogue’) provided for in Directive 2002/53. Pioneer, therefore, brought a case before the Italian Council of State asking for an annulment of the Ministry's decision, challenging the interpretation of Article 26a. The Italian Council of State referred the case to the EU Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.
The EU Court of Justice's ruling supporting the position of Pioneer clarifies and confirms the interpretation of the EU rules in place. Certain EU Member States do not favour the cultivation of GM crops on their territory and they try to limit such cultivation through direct or indirect measures. The EU Court of Justice's judgment confirms that such practices are not legally defendable, at least not with regard to the few GM varieties that are authorised for cultivation in the EU. The ruling also follows previous case-law of the Court that sanctioned France for inappropriate transposition of the EU rules on cultivation of approved GM crops (Cases C-419/03 and C-121/07).