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The European Commission is set to carry on with its practice of introducing
new genetically modified products to the EU market, amid reluctance by
several member states and general public opposition, March 2005 by Lucia
The forthcoming steps by the Commission on GM products in Europe are
outlined in a paper put forward by the institution's president and six other
commissioners, which is to be adopted on 22 March 2005.
According to the document, the Commission will take steps to authorise
several products that have been neither approved nor rejected by a
sufficient number of member states ? such as GM oilseed rape (GT73) and
maize (MON 863).
Existing legislation allows the Commission to go ahead with the
authorisation procedure if a threshold of votes by member states against the
proposal is not obtained.
The Commission argues that member states have so far avoided taking a clear
position, leaving it up to the Brussels executive to make unpopular
However, several environment organisations oppose the plans to introduce new
GM products without necessary European legislation to protect the
consumers - as well as conventional and organic crops - from contamination.
Meanwhile, the EU is facing an on-going trade dispute in the World Trade
Organisation, initiated by the US, Argentina and Canada in 2003, due to its
failure to apply its own regulatory regime on GMOs.
State of the play
The Commission?s paper points out that the EU food market of GM labelled
food remains limited, while the genetically modified products are more
accepted in the feed sector.
It mentions a rising number of highly restrictive national or regional
measures on the cultivation of GMOs, and a network of twenty European
"GMO-free" regions, mainly in Spain, France, Germany, Greece and the UK.
There is a new regulatory framework for placing new GM products on the EU
markets, but member states are reluctant to implement it by taking decisions
on specific products.
Also, several of the Commission's recommendations on the rules adopted in
the individual countries "have not been taken into account", according to
Austria, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Denmark are those member states most
strongly opposed to new GMOs being introduced in Europe. But opposition is
mounting in the new member states, as well.
"There was a great miscalculation in Brussels about the countries from
eastern and central Europe. As strong US allies in other issues, they were
expected to be also pro-GMO, but the opposite has been the case," said Mauro
Albrizio, Vice-president of the European Environmental Bureau.
On the other hand, the UK, Netherlands and Finland are on the pro-GMO side
of the argument, and usually vote in favour of new products to be
Polls show that around 70 per cent of Europeans are against the GMOs.
More or less EU rules?
A number of environmental groups have rebuffed the Commission?s position,
suggesting Brussels should not press ahead with the new GMOs without
properly enforced rules for preventing contamination at place.
"The document is a great disappointment for us as it does not make any
suggestions on how to fill in the legal loopholes for preventing some
countries contaminating the agricultural areas of the others by growing the
GMOs," said Geert Ritsema of Friends of Europe.
He suggested that different standards in different countries cause huge
costs for the conventional and organic farmers, as they are left alone to
The Commission argues that there is currently not enough support for new
But according to Eric Gall of Greenpeace, the Commission's position is
influenced by pressure from the WTO, the US and lobby groups.
"We have seen evidence of real American pressure in various member states,
with letters to Greek and Austrian embassies threatening US sanctions if the
countries go ahead with anti-GMO steps. But it is up to the European
Commission not to bow to such pressure," said Mr Gall.
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