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TITLE:  EU Faces Busy GMO Timetable but No End to Deadlock
SOURCE: Reuters, by Jeremy Smith
DATE:   18 Aug 2005

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EU Faces Busy GMO Timetable but No End to Deadlock

BRUSSELS - EU governments face a slew of decisions in the next few months
on whether to allow more imports of genetically modified (GMO) foods but
nothing is expected that might break Europe's deadlock over biotechnology.

With EU institutions mostly closed in August, ministers and national
experts will be asked to process a backlog of applications for new GMO
approvals in four crammed months.

That doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to agree.

In fact, although the EU ended its six-year unofficial biotech ban in May
2004, the last time national governments could agree on authorising a new
GMO product was back in 1998.

Since then, many meetings end in deadlock as "pro" and "anti" camps
balance each other out and more and more countries sit on the fence,
undecided on the benefits of biotech foods.

Three new GMO approvals have been issued since the ban ended, all by a
European Commission rubberstamp -- a default process that kicks in when
EU states repeatedly fail to agree.

Agriculture ministers will resume their monthly meetings from September,
when they should discuss whether Greece should lift its ban on 17 types
of a Monsanto GMO maize seed.

The pace may quicken in October as the Commission is keen to present
several more GMOs for approval by the end of the year.

"October looks like it's going to be busier than September," one EU
diplomat said. The month will probably start with a meeting of EU food
safety experts, who will debate a similar GMO seed ban imposed by Poland
and possibly another by Hungary.

October's ministerial meeting may also see voting on two Monsanto maize
types: GA21, for use as a food processing ingredient, and MON 863, for
use in food. Environment ministers may also debate another GMO maize
approval that month.

And that's not all. The whole atmosphere on biotechnology could change in
Brussels in early October due to the World Trade Organisation's expected
ruling on a case brought against EU biotech policy by the United States,
Canada and Argentina.


NO END TO DEADLOCK

EU countries have ended meetings in deadlock 14 times in a row, either as
ministers or national experts, on approving new GMOs usually for use in
industrial processing or as animal feed. Consumer opinion has been
overwhelmingly opposed to GMO foods.

Under the EU's complex weighted voting system, the EU-25 must achieve a
majority to approve a new product or reject it.

If there is deadlock at national experts level, the dossier escalates to
ministers -- and if they fail to agree after three months, the Commission
may issue a default approval.

"It looks like it's going to be busy but the result will be the same.
There will be no opinion," a Commission official said.

But the most controversial area is yet to come. So far, the Commission
has shied away from asking member states to allow imports of more GMO
crops for growing in Europe's fields.

Around six "live" GMOs are waiting for approval -- maize and rapeseed
types, and a starch potato -- but no dates have been set for any meeting.

Diplomats say the Commission will probably not want to submit any of
these to a vote before its agriculture department finishes a report on
how EU states are dealing with coexistence -- or how farmers separate
conventional, organic and GMO crops.

Fewer than half of EU states have proper coexistence laws despite
reminders from the Commission to use its guidelines on separation
distances and natural crop buffers like hedgerows.

The Commission's report is not expected until at the end of the year or,
more likely, in early 2006.

In theory, it would provide the basis for a framework EU law on
coexistence for govermnents to enact national laws on crop separation.
But the Commission has been increasingly lukewarm in recent months on
whether such a law will be drafted at all.




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