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Tell the World we have a GMO Moratorium!

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24Jun1999 LUXEMBOURG: FOCUS-EU close to temporary GMO moratorium. 17:05 GMT 
By Michael Mann
LUXEMBOURG, June 24 (Reuters) - European Union environment ministers on Thursday moved closer to a moratorium on authorising new genetically modified organisms, at least until new rules can be agreed to reassure consumers of their safety.
"Until new rules are in place, we don't want any new products to be released," German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin told a press conference.
"It will be a de facto moratorium, though legally-speaking we can't call it that," he said.
Ministers met in Luxembourg with the aim of agreeing revised rules for approving new GMOs amid growing public concern about the safety of gene technology following a number of food scares.
Environmental oressure group Greenpeace immediately welcomed the move towards a moratorium.
"GMOs are an environmental threat and an unjustified experiment with food," it said in a statement, adding it hoped the temporary halt to approvals was a step to a "consistent ban".
The Commission, the EU's executive, has proposed changes to the process by which new GMOs are authorised to tighten safety checks and ensure more transparency in the decision-making process.
All ongoing applications are currently blocked because of shortcomings in the current approvals process, and the Union fears it is vulnerable to attack from its trading partners, who have a more liberal approach to licensing GMOs.
Acting EU Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjeergaard said she was confident the EU would be able to defend itself from any legal challenges, even under World Trade Organisation rules.
"Under the WTO, you can base yourself on new scientific evidence," Bjerregaard said. "I see no problem with what we're doing today in relation to GMOs."
Bjerregaard urged ministers to continue working towards a compromise on the revised legislation, so that consumers could be reassured that any products coming onto the market in the future were safe.
Trittin said the revised authorisation law would not hit the statute books for at least 18 months. GMOs already on the market would not be affected by the moratorium, he added.
France and Greece led calls for the moratorium, supported by several other countries, notably Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg.
"We want a declaration, with the active cooperation of the (European) Commission, which would stop a member state being exposed to a legal challenge," French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet told reporters.
Diplomats were trying late on Thursday to draft a statement confirming the moratorium which was acceptable to all 15 governments.
Technical work will also continue on the long-stalled revision to the authorisation rules, officials said. 

Steve Emmott
Policy Advisor-Genetic Engineering
Green Group in the European Parliament
1047 Brussels

Tel +32 2 284 2026
Fax +32 2 284 2026

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