BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed on Wednesday a new law allowing individual EU countries to restrict or prohibit imported genetically modified crops even after they have been approved for use in food and feed by the bloc as a whole.
The proposal risks upsetting trading partners, particularly the United States, which wants Europe to open its doors fully to U.S. GM crops as part of a planned EU-U.S. free trade deal.
It has also already drawn criticism from environmental groups, who fear the new rules will in fact allow in a flood of GM crops, while not providing the legal grounds for national governments to opt out. That, they said, would open them up to legal challenges from biotech companies or the U.S. government.
The Commission said member states that opted out would have to justify their decision to do so.
The new law would mirror legislation recently cleared covering the cultivation of GM crops in the European Union, giving member states a similar opt-out right.
Widely-grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion. Britain is broadly in favor of them, while France is among the countries that opposes them.
Only one GM crop is currently grown in Europe, Monsanto's maize MON810 in Spain and Portugal.
However, there are 58 GM crops approved for use in feed and food in the European Union, the Commission said.
In practice, there are hardly any GM products on sale as food, but some 60 percent of the EU's needs of vegetable proteins for cattle are met by imported soy and soymeal from countries where GM cultivation is widespread.
The biotech industry has complained that there is a clear process for approving GM products in Europe, but that it deliberately blocked, something the United States has complained about.
Industry group EuropaBio say there are 59 crops pending approval, with 17 awaiting a final decision from the Commission after clearing checks by the European Food Safety Authority. It adds the Commission has not cleared any since November 2013.
(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop and Barbara Lewis; editing by Robin Emmott)