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Europe should press ahead with authorising more genetically modified (GMO)
foods despite overwhelming opposition among European consumers, a draft EU
document showed in March 2005 by Jeremy Smith.
Citing the lack of unanimity among the European Union's 25 member states
on gene-altered crops, viewed by many European consumers as "Frankenstein
foods", the EU executive plans to push new products through the system.
The document, obtained by Reuters, says the Commission should back the
"continued submission of draft decisions for the placing on the market of
new GMO products". It will need support from a majority in the 25-strong
Commission to become policy. This proposed position for the EU executive
comes in the face of surveys that show 70 percent of European consumers
oppose GMO foods, usually on health and environment grounds.
Only one EU country, Spain, grows substantial amounts of GMO crops and the
continent as a whole remains a major holdout against the spread of the
largely U.S.-engineered plants, which are meant to increase yields and be
resistant to pests.
Next week, the EU executive will debate the subject, hoping to end the
policy vacuum that has existed since it took office in November. The
discussion, slated for Tuesday, will be the Commission's first on
biotechnology since January 2004.
Apart from guarded comments from some members of the new Commission, little
of substance has been said on where the EU might head next with its policy
on GMO crops and imports.
Six commissioners carry the most weight, since they are directly involved in
GMO policy. They represent agriculture, environment, trade, research,
industry and food safety.
The six will present a discussion document that calls for GMO authorisations
to continue despite years of stalemate among governments, even after the EU
lifted its six-year moratorium on approving new GMOs by a default legal
procedure last year. "So far, every single one of the 13 Commission
proposals (for GMO approval) failed to get the required qualified (voting)
majority, even for those GMOs not intended for cultivation, but for import
and processing only," the draft document says.
"It is expected that ... the Commission will have to continue to take
ultimate responsibility for adoption of pending decisions for the placing on
the market of new GMO products, at least for the immediate future," it said.
Under the EU's decision-making process, if EU member states cannot agree
after three months at ministerial level on allowing imports of a new GMO,
then the Commission may rubberstamp an approval. This is how the EU
moratorium was lifted in May 2004.
MEMBER STATES SPLIT
More and more countries now abstain in GMO votes, reducing the chances of
agreement. A small group always votes in favour, such as Finland and the
Netherlands; a counter-group, including Austria, Denmark, Greece and
Luxembourg, always votes against. The rest either abstain or vary their
The result is that no decision is taken, and it falls to the Commission to
approve the new GMO, months later.
To avoid this, governments should be asked to "participate effectively in
the process with a view to reaching clear positions", the Commission
"They (the Commission) will be throwing it all back at the member
states...and ask them what they think about it. But they won't get a steer
from the member states because they are split," said Adrian Bebb at Friends
of the Earth Europe. In the meantime, several key GMO decisions are "on
These include the Commission's approval of imports of a GMO rapeseed and a
vote by ministers on several national GMO bans that the Commission wants
lifted -- a highly sensitive area that raises the issue of national
sovereignty. The draft document said the Commission would be likely to take
the final decision on demanding that the bans be lifted, since it would be
"difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a qualified majority either in
favour or against".
Other issues to be raised next week will be thresholds for GMO content in
seed batches, the World Trade Organisation case filed against the EU for its
GMO moratorium, and coexistence: or how farmers should separate GMO,
traditional and organic crops.
PRAGMATIC FARM COMMISSIONER
Opinions differ even among the six key commissioners, insiders say, with
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said to be the most wary of GMO foods
while Food Safety Commissioner Markos Kyprianou wants to see the member
state deadlock broken.
Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has been probably the most talkative
on GMOs so far, saying she might depart from current policy and draft an
EU-wide regulation on coexistence.
"Her line has been that GMOs are here to stay so we might as well try and
live with them," one Commission insider said.
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