A new EU directive on the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which took effect on 17 October, raises industry’s hopes of ending the four-year moratorium on new GM products in Europe. However, seven Member States refuse to lift the moratorium until new labelling and traceability rules are in place.
The Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the
environment of genetically modified organisms replaces a previous
Directive (90/220/EEC), which has been in force for the past ten
years. The new rules will ensure that all genetically modified food
and crops are subject to strict risk assessment tests before they
can be sold, marketed or planted in the EU.
The Commission considers that the new directive
fulfils the conditions to re-start the authorisation procedure for
GMOs. “It is up to companies to decide what products they want to
put on the market and to Member States to initiate the procedure
for authorisation,” the Commission said in a statement. No new GM
products have been approved by the EU since 1998 because the rules
were deemed to lax.
The Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström has expressed hope that the Council and Parliament will adopt the
Commission’s proposals for traceability and labelling of GMOs,
discussed by the Council of Environment Ministers on 17 October.
“An EU-wide system will ensure that the same rules apply throughout
the European Union and that consumers are correctly informed about
the presence of GM products in food,” she said.
The Member State governments continue to
disagree on the proposals, and France, Italy, Denmark, Austria,
Greece and Luxembourg insist they cannot lift the moratorium until
the new labelling and traceability rules are in force. It is likely
that the Council will not be able to reach an agreement on this
issue, and a conciliation procedure with the European Parliament
will be called for at the end of the year.
If the moratorium on GMOs persists despite the
new rules, the United States could take the EU to the World Trade
Organisation to challenge the moratorium on biotech farm and food
products, which costs US producers $200 million per year in lost