LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - A European Union court said on Wednesday civil society groups could challenge the way the European Commission authorized the sale of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the bloc.
The ruling follows the commission's rejection of a demand by German campaign group TestBioTech for a review of a decision to permit the entry into the EU of genetically-modified (GM) soybeans produced by Pioneer and Monsanto.
The soybeans were cleared by the commission in 2015, after a positive recommendation from the European Food Safety Agency.
EU scientists have repeatedly said GMOs are as safe for humans and the environment as their non-modified counterparts, but consumer opposition remains strong. Permission to allow GM crops into the EU is often delayed as EU members cannot agree.
TestBioTech had filed for a review under a regulation that allows civil society groups to engage with the EU on environmental issues. The commission rejected the request, saying GMO decisions related to health not the environment.
The EU's General Court disagreed, saying regulations on GMOs were "an integral part" of environmental law. It said GMOs were part "of the natural environment" before being processed into food.
The "Aarhus Regulation", under which TestBioTech filed its case, covered all aspects of EU legislation concerning the regulation of GMOs in relation to health risks, the court said.
TestBioTech welcomed the ruling, calling it "an important step towards strengthening the precautionary principle in the EU."
The EU allows the import of more than 50 GM crops and, while approval covers human consumption, they are exclusively used as animal feed. Only one GM crop, a type of maize, is grown in Europe.
(Reporting by Samantha Koester; Editing by Edmund Blair)