EU considers ‘pause for thought’ on GMOs

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EU environment ministers have failed to agree to force Austria to lift a national ban on GMOs, highlighting deep divisions among the 27-member bloc over the issue.

For the third time in a row since 2005, the environment ministers failed, on 30 October 2007, to find a qualified majority for or against a Commission proposal to lift restrictions on the provisional prohibition of the use and sale in Austria of two genetically modified (GM) varieties of maize. It will now be up to the Commission to make the decision. 

The Commission proposed forcing Austria to drop its national ban on importing two types of GM maize (MON810 and T25) and processing them into food and feed in order to conform to WTO rules (see EURACTIV 19/12/2006). 

The Portuguese Presidency explained that member states have two types of reasoning against the Commission’s proposal. “You have people who are automatically against GMOs and would just vote against any proposal related to the introduction of GM foods. Others voted against because they feel that a member state’s will should be respected,” said Portuguese Minister for the Environment Francisco Nunes Correia. 

“Here we have one member state, Austria, wanting to opt for one particular position and some other member states feel that this position should be respected, independently of that country’s particular opinion about GMOs or GM food,” he added, saying that majority of member states are against (187 votes) the Commission proposal to order the ban to be lifted. “The Commission proposal still prevails against the explicit will of one member state and that is something that has to give us a pause for thought”.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the Commission was “going to consider the concerns expressed in the Council,” and added that according to EU legislation, if the Commission decided to go ahead, “Austria should comply within 20 days”.

The ministers also discussed an Italian proposal to strengthen the powers of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in Parma, and change the authorisation procedure for GMOs. The Portuguese Presidency said that “the subject will, in the near future, certainly be debated more formally”.  

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