Key decision on GMOs to be postponed

On 14 and 17 October, the Agriculture and Environment Councils were expected to take key decisions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, the decisions are likely to be postponed due to major disagreements among the Member States regarding the rules on labelling and traceability of GM products.

The most contentious issues for the debates in the Council
are:

  • the treshold for labelling foods or feeds that contain GMOs.
    The Commission wants the products with more than 1% of GM material
    to be labelled, but the Parliament demanded that this threshold be
    0.5 per cent.
  • the legal basis to be used for the granting of an authorisation
    to place genetically modified food and feed on the market. The
    Commission is in favour of a centralised authorisation procedure by
    the European Food Safety Authority, while the Parliament prefers a
    decentralised procedure.
  • the thresholds set for traces of unauthorised GMOs that have
    nevertheless been assessed as risk free.

With the adoption of the Commission’s package,
the Council could decide to lift the unofficial moratorium on
authorizing new GM products, in place since June 1999. However,
Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg want strict
rules on labelling and traceability to be put in place before
deciding to lift the moratorium.

 

The US administration complains that new tougher
rules would be illegal under WTO rules. Washington says that
establishing a tougher labelling and traceability regime for GM
foods in Europe would be "more trade restrictive than necessary",
and should not include animal feeds (even though most GM crops are
fed to farm animals).

David Byrne, Commisioner for Health and Consumer
protection, "wants the moratorium lifted because all the conditions
are close to being fulfilled to create a structure and legal
framework to allow consumer choice through labelling," according to
Beate Gminder, his spokeswoman.

Ahead of the Council meetings,
Friends of the Earth Europe organised an
International Trolley Parade in Brussels on 9 October to protest
against the introduction of GMOs on the market. They pushed
supermarket trolleys with GM-free food through the streets
surrounding the EU institutions. Friends of the Earth believes the
moratorium must be upheld until adequate biosafety regulations
against the risks of GMOs, and liability rules for GMO producers
are in place. They also want to see guarantees protecting food and
farmers from contamination and laws requiring the labelling of all
GM food and GM animal feed.

Alexander de Roo, a Dutch Member of the European
Parliament who attended the trolley parade, said: "This protest is
a clear signal that European consumers are no longer prepared to be
cheated and that European citizens want to know what they eat."

Europabio, the association of European biotech
industries, calls for realistic allowances for traces of GMOs found
in home-grown crops (adventitious presence). Legislation should
permit the presence of trace amounts of GM products from the EU's
trading partners and must recognise that small traces of approved
GMOs will occur in seeds for cultivation.

 

On 25 July 2001, the Commission adopted two legislative
proposals to set up a harmonised community system to trace
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This package introduces the
labelling of GM feed, reinforces the current labelling rules on GM
food and establishes a streamlined authorisation procedure for GMOs
in food and feed and their deliberate release into the environment
(see
LinksDossier on Labelling and traceability of GMOs).

On 3 July 2002, the Parliament endorsed both
Commission proposals with amendments demanding more stringent rules
on traceability and labelling of food products and animal feed
containing GMOs (see

EURACTIV of 4 July 2002).

 

I n early November, the Standing Committee on Seeds and
Propagating Material for Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry
will hold an indicative vote on a draft Directive concerning the
genetic contamination of seeds.

 

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