EU freezes approval of new GMO crop cultivation

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The European Commission  doesn't plan to give the green light to new genetically modified crops in the coming months, as it wants first an agreement on the draft legislation that would allow member governments to decide individually whether to grow or ban GM plants, a spokesperson said yesterday (22 January).

The draft rules proposed by the European Commission in 2010 were meant to unblock EU decision-making on genetically modified crops, by allowing some countries to use the technology while letting others impose cultivation bans.

But opposition from France, Germany and Britain has prevented agreement on the proposals, which must be approved by a majority of governments and the European Parliament before becoming law.

"We are going to discuss the issue with the three governments to see if we can reopen negotiations on the proposals," said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg.

Currently, EU rules state that any GM crop approved for cultivation can be grown anywhere inside the bloc, unless countries have specific scientific reasons for banning their cultivation.

Only two GM crops are currently approved for cultivation in Europe, where opposition from sceptical consumers and environmental groups remains strong.

That compares to more than 90 GM varieties approved for cultivation in the United States and about 30 in Brazil.

Seven GM crops - six maize varieties and one soybean - are currently awaiting cultivation approval from the Commission, having received a positive risk evaluation from the EU's food safety watchdog.

The crops concerned were developed by agri-business multinationals including Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta.

Vincent said the Commission was unlikely to propose approving the seven varieties for cultivation in the coming weeks, but dismissed any suggestion of a freeze on EU cultivation decisions for GM crops.

Commenting on the reports, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said that EU testing is not currently able to assess the safety of GM crops for the environment and health.

“For this reason, European countries unanimously called on the Commission to fix the authorisation system in 2008. The logical next step would be to freeze approvals of GM crops and to reform the way risk assessments are carried out. Unfortunately, so far the Commission's attempts at reform have been far too timid and its refusal to declare an outright freeze on new approvals is determined by its fear of the biotech industry.”

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