France to propose concrete solutions to EU’s GMO muddle

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Paris has announced the creation of a “group of friends of the presidency” to consider the EU’s GMO authorisation process, which it wants to take better account of “local specificities”.

“We have asked this group to work in two directions,” explained French Secretary of State for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in an interview with euractiv.fr, commenting on a French announcement made at an informal meeting of the EU-27 environment ministers on 4 July 2008.

Firstly, the group will address the evaluation process for the authorisation of GMOs, which, according to Kosciusko-Morizet, is not transparent enough and does not take sufficient account of either the long-term effects of GMOs or national expertise. So far, the approval procedures nearly always end in deadlock in the Council due to strong disagreement between member states on the issue, with the Commission finally forcing GMO approvals on them. 

The current EU system “does not allow us to take into account our local specificities” with regard to nature reserves or territorial agriculture, for example, said the French state secretary. 

Secondly, the group will discuss “how the potential new effects – unknown at the time of the authorisation – will be taken into account,” she said. 

We also need to find out how to deal with a “country who might wish to, for example, declare itself GMO-free,” added Kosciusko-Morizet.

The French Presidency’s group on GMOs is said to “complement” that set up by Commission President José Manuel Barroso last month. Indeed, Barroso has asked the EU-27 heads of state to nominate a senior official to a high-level informal discussion group on the EU’s current GMO authorisation process and the way the related European legislation is being implemented by member states.

According to a member-state representative, the French ‘friends’ group will be an ad-hoc working group seeking to evaluate detailed problems in an in-depth manner and find concrete answers on issues such as the risk assessment procedure. Barroso’s high-level group, on the other hand, will rather focus on the “big picture” and the horizontal and global ramifications of the bloc’s GMO policy. 

The French ‘friends’ group is expected to start its work in September and submit its conclusions to the Environment Council on 4-5 December 2008. Before that, ministers will discuss the issue in the next Environment Council in early October. 

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