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6-Regulation: European Commission warns Members on blocking GE crops

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TITLE:  Commission warns governments on modified crops
SOURCE: The Financial Times, UK, by Tobias Buck
DATE:   Feb 3, 2003

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Commission warns governments on modified crops

The European Commission is warning European Union governments to end
their foot-dragging over approval of new genetically modified (GM) crops,
in an attempt to stave off the growing threat of a US challenge at the
World Trade Organisation.

But David Byrne, EU commissioner for health and consumer safety, also
fired a warning shot in the direction of the US administration, claiming
a WTO case would harden consumers' hostility towards GM products.

Washington and Brussels have been at odds over this issue ever since the
EU introduced a de facto moratorium on the approval of new GM crops more
than four years ago.

While European governments say their stance reflects the deeply felt
concerns of a population made anxious by a string of recent food scares,
the US accuses the EU of using such concerns as a pretext for blatant

In an interview, Mr Byrne made clear his own frustration with the
position of some member states. "Member states have been unduly timid
about this [lifting the moratorium]." He urged governments to do more to
persuade consumers that GM products were safe. "I am not convinced that
this work is being done with the kind of force that is needed," he said.

"We have various prestigious scientific institutions that have said GM
foods do not cause any harm to consumers. There is no evidence that this
food is any more unsafe than conventional foods."

However, Mr Byrne also reserved criticism for the US administration,
which over the past weeks appears to have moved closer towards launching
formal proceedings against the EU at the WTO in Geneva. The case is
widely seen as one of the most contentious to confront the WTO's dispute
settlement mechanism so far, and could have serious repercussions for the
current Doha round of world trade talks.

"I find it surprising that this is happening at the very point in the
process at which everything is falling into place," Mr Byrne said in a
reference to a proposed EU regulation on the "traceability and labelling"
of GM products. The regulation - expected to be adopted by the European
parliament before summer - is seen in Brussels as the final obstacle to
lifting the moratorium. The US has criticised the proposals as too strict.

The commissioner also warned a WTO action would harden European
consumers' hostility towards GM products. "I think it will be counter-
productive. It is going to cause animosity among consumers if the US is
seen to bring these foods into the EU by mandatory means. Consumers will
react against the companies that sell such products."