New legal basis may lead to stricter rules for GMOs in seeds

On 22 October, the Commission informed Member States that new rules will apply to the voting procedure on its controversial draft Directive on labelling thresholds for GMOs in conventional seeds.

The Commission on 22 October informed Member States that it had changed the legal basis for the adoption of the directive, which will put back the timeframe.

Initially, the Standing Committee on Seeds was to decide on the Directive under the comitology procedure, a technical procedure that would have required a qualified majority to vote against it for it ot be rejected. The decision to use this procedure had come under attack from some Member States, notably Germany and Italy, the Parliament’s legal service and environmental interest groups.

The Commission has now announced that the seeds’ purity thresholds will be first adopted under the Directive 2001/18 on the release of GMOs into the environment. For this to happen, a Commission proposal will have to be accepted by qualified majority by the Member States in the framework of a Regulatory Committee established to supervise the Directive, which will look into the environmental and health aspects. The thresholds agreed will then also be included in the Seeds Directives of the EU.

As the reason behind this apparent U-turn, the Commission stated the need to ensure that both the seeds’ laws and environment law should be used to set thresholds in order to avoid inconsistencies.

 

Environmental interest groupswelcomed the decision, interpreting the change of procedure as an acknowledgement by the Commission that the issue must be considered from an environmental point of view and not as a mere agricultural technicality. They now hope that the Regulatory Committee might set lower thresholds than proposed by the Commission.

The industry association,EuropaBio, however, protested against this decision as it will further delay the implementation of "much needed rules" to ensure fair and open markets for approved products in the EU, which requires clear EU-wide rules on seed thresholds. "This regrettable decision makes a mockery of the internal market and exposes the agriculture industry and individual farmers to unacceptable legal uncertainty", said EuropaBio.

 

The Commission's proposal for a directive on the contamination of conventional seeds by GMOs aims to introduce labelling rules which would establis a threshold of 0.3 to 0.7 per cent for GMOs in seeds. Below this level the presence of GMOs would not have to be indicated on the label. The fact that the rules would also be applicable to organic seeds has sparked criticism from environmental pressure groups and the farming community.

The EU's trade industry had also attacked the draft directive, stating that it would lead to growing GMO contamination of the whole food and animal feed supply chain and reduce the consumers' freedom of choice between GM and non-GM food.

The EU's Standing Committee on Seeds, in which all 15 EU Member States are represented, was expected to take a decision on the Commission's controversial proposal on 27 October.

 


The Commission will issue a new proposal on the changed legal basis. The vote in the Standing Committee on Seeds has therefore been delayed. A decision is no longer expected for 2003.

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