BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments should be allowed to ban the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops based on environmental concerns including the prevention of "super weeds," EU lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Critics of GM crops say herbicides used in conjunction with the plants -- such as Monsanto Co's Roundup Ready -- promote widespread weed resistance, or super weeds.
EU countries should also be free to ban GM crops to protect local plants, habitats and alternative farming practices such as organic production, the European Parliament's influential environment committee said in a vote in Brussels.
"This vote is a clear signal from the Parliament ... that some agricultural and environmental impacts can be cited by member states to justify a ban or restriction on GM cultivation," said lawmaker Corrine Lepage, who led the vote.
The European Commission in July proposed draft legislation that would give governments the power to decide on bans in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM crop approvals, after just two varieties have been approved for cultivation in more than 12 years.
But the Commission said countries should not use environmental or health grounds to justify bans, because these were already taken into account during the EU safety approval process, which is not altered by the draft legislation.
The committee said in amendments to the draft that the EU's safety assessment process for GM crops should look at the long-term health and environmental impacts of the technology.
EU governments including France, Britain and Germany had already signaled their opposition to the Commission's proposals, citing fears that they breach world trade rules and could lead to legal challenges by biotech companies, exporting countries and EU farmers.
The draft rules must be jointly approved by EU governments and legislators before becoming law.
The full Parliament will vote on the environment committee's amendments and other proposed changes to the draft legislation in June.
(Reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Rex Merrifield and Jane Baird)