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BRUSSELS - Europe may again display its deep differences over biotechnology
next month when the European Commission battles to find common ground on
purity rules for seeds, the last piece in the EU's legal GMO jigsaw, August
2004 by Jeremy Smith .
Brussels wants to update legislation on seeds so that it can ease the way
to approving new genetically modified (GMO) crops for planting. But this has
proved so controversial that even the EU executive, usually united on GMO
policy, cannot agree.
A draft law has bounced between various Commission units for more than a
year. The group of 25 commissioners will discuss GMO seeds at a meeting on
September 8 in a last bid to agree policy before the current executive's
mandate expires on October 31.
That may not be easy, diplomats and industry observers say, given the rift
between the five units involved - agriculture, environment, research, trade
and food safety.
"This proposal has been around for quite some time. They seem to want to
adopt it before the Commission leaves (office)," said Eric Gall, GMO advisor
at environment group Greenpeace.
"It will be the five commissioners in charge...and I don't know how they are
going to come to an agreement. They are in such a deadlock within the
Commission," he said.
A draft law circulating in May listed six crops -- rapeseed, maize, sugar
and fodder beet, potatoes and cotton - with proposed GMO content thresholds
from 0.3 to 0.5 percent.
Batches of conventional seed containing genetically modified material below
those thresholds would not have to be labelled.
Insiders say the Commission's food safety unit insists on keeping the
thresholds and crop types as detailed in the draft. Its row has been with
the environment unit, which is pushing for a 0.3 percent level but only for
maize and rapeseed.
Despite lifting its five-year moratorium on approving new biotech foods in
May, the EU is still divided on GMOs in food -- whether as seeds for
planting or as imported products ready for eating or for use in processing
to make animal feed.
Green groups say seed thresholds should not exceed a technical detection
level of 0.1 percent since anything higher makes it impossible to meet
strong consumer demand for non-GMO food.
GMO-sceptic countries Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark have already said they
can only support a maximum 0.1 percent.
MORE PROBLEMS AHEAD
To make matters more complicated, the Commission will also discuss extending
national authorisations for 17 specific seeds to an EU-wide authorisation,
entering each seed into what is called the Common Catalogue. This process is
But these are GMO seeds, different strains of Monsanto's 810 maize that is
engineered to resist certain insects. As yet, no biotech seeds have been
approved at EU level.
Green groups say allowing the widespread use of GMO seeds is irresponsible
while most countries still have no proper rules on how farmers should
separate organic, conventional and GMO crops to minimise
"This is again a thorny issue where legally they (the Commission) have to
put these seeds on the Common Catalogue," said Adrian Bebb of environmental
group Friends of the Earth.
"Virtually none of the EU countries have...regulations in place yet, so it's
going to be pretty unpopular."
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