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2-Plants: EU may allow first GMO seeds for sale across bloc

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  EU may allow first GMO seeds for sale across bloc
SOURCE: Reuters, by Jeremy Smith
DATE:   6 Sep 2004 

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EU may allow first GMO seeds for sale across bloc

BRUSSELS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - The European Commission is likely to
authorise the first genetically modified (GMO) seeds for commercial use
across EU territory this week, in the face of widespread consumer
resistance to biotech crops.

No biotech seeds have so far been approved at EU level, but some national
authorisations exist in countries such as France and Spain. This means
that only farmers in those countries can buy and then plant the approved
seeds. However, under an established legal procedure, once an EU state
gives the green light for a seed to be sold on its territory -- and
assuming all EU legislation is complied with -- the Commission is obliged
eventually to extend that authorisation onto an EU-wide basis.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the EU executive will discuss entering 17
different strains of Monsanto's 810 maize into what is called the Common
Catalogue -- the EU's overall seed directory that includes all national
seed catalogues.

The parent maize seed, engineered to resist certain insects, won EU
approval for cultivation just before the bloc began its ban on new GMO
approvals in 1998 that lasted nearly six years. At present, very few
"live" GMO crops may be grown in the EU.

"Inscription in the common catalogue is...purely a marketing issue," read
a note to be delivered by EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner
David Byrne at Wednesday's meeting.

"Failure to undertake the inscription now would mean the 2005 growing
season could be lost and leave the Commission vulnerable to a Court
challenge for failure to act," said Byrne's speaking note, obtained by


Wednesday looks certain to be a busy GMO day for the 25-strong group of
EU commissioners, several of whom are lukewarm, at best, on pressing
ahead with more GMO approvals.

Also likely to be on their agenda is a draft law on how much GMO material
may be tolerated without labelling in batches of conventional seed -- a
highly controversial law that has bounced between the Commission's
various units for more than a year.

The law's latest version calls for a GMO content threshold of 0.3 percent
for maize and rapeseed, the only two biotech crops so far authorised.
Batches of conventional seed with GMO material below those levels would
not have to be labelled.

Despite the high likelihood of the 17 Monsanto seeds winning European
approval, green groups say allowing the widespread use of GMO seeds is
irresponsible while most countries have no proper rules on how farmers
should separate organic, conventional and GMO crops to minimise cross-

So far, the Commission has insisted that EU states should be responsible
for how their farmers segregate the three farming types -- an issue known
in EU jargon as coexistence.

"These proposals by the European Commission are a recipe for disaster,"
said Geert Ritsema, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth, referring to
the draft seeds law and Commission proposal to approve the Monsanto seeds.

"Allowing widespread growing of GM crops before countries have had the
chance to put in measures to protect consumers and the environment is a
reckless move that could lead to the widespread contamination of Europe's
food, farming and environment," he said in a statement.

Polls have shown more than 70 percent of European consumers oppose
biotech foods because of health and environment worries.

Only a handful of EU governments have drafted coexistence laws providing
for financial liability in cases of crop contamination. Denmark recently
put a national law in place, while Germany's parliament will debate a
draft law this month.


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