GENET archive


6-Regulation: Commissioner Fischer Boel backtracks over EU-wide GM crop co-existence legislation

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Biotech Crop Policy in EU gets Rethink after Rebuff
SOURCE: Reuters, by Jeremy Smith
DATE:   1 Jul 2005

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Biotech Crop Policy in EU gets Rethink after Rebuff

BRUSSELS - EU policymakers may be forced to rethink how they stand on
biotech crops and foods after national governments recently took a strong
stance against them.

The European Commission, which thought in March it had worked out how to
prise open the EU's mostly shut doors to gene-altered products, got a
nasty surprise last week.

EU environment ministers roundly rejected Commission proposals to order
five countries to lift bans on certain genetically modified (GMO)
products. Of the EU's 25 countries, 22 voted against the proposal.

The Commission says the bans are unjustified, despite widespread fears in
Europe that GMO crops may pose health risks to humans and to the
environment. Manufacturers and scientists contend the crops are safe.

The Commission wants to show the United States, Canada and Argentina --
which have filed against EU biotech policy at the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) -- that Europe is ready to push GMO applications
through the EU system.

The environment ministers said otherwise.


EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, seen as one of the more GMO-
wary commissioners, now wants his colleagues who are most involved in GMO
policy to discuss the "political significance" of last Friday's vote, a
Commission official said.

"What is certain is that today's vote sends a political signal that
member states may want to revisit some aspects of the existing system,"
Dimas said after the defeat.

Dimas could have a tough battle ahead if, as officials say, he tries to
persuade the other five "concerned" commissioners to allow EU countries
more flexibility on growing and importing GMOs that have already received
EU-wide approval.

The five commissioners represent trade, agriculture, research, industry
and food safety.

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is likely to focus on the WTO's
upcoming ruling on EU biotech policy, while Research Commissioner Janez
Potocnik may be keen to see GMO policy forging ahead as a way to promote
EU research, diplomats say.

For Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, the main issue waiting
to be resolved is coexistence: EU jargon for how farmers should separate
traditional, organic and biotech crops.

Fischer Boel has often said she may consider a legal framework, maybe in
2006, for how EU governments should regulate coexistence on national
territories, instead of the current non-binding guidelines. Now, her
rhetoric seems to have faded.

Food Safety Commissioner Markos Kyprianou is known to want to see an end
to the deadlock in GMO votes, where EU states debate whether to authorise
a particular product. He also advocates a high degree of national
flexibility on coexistence.

More and more countries now abstain in GMO votes, which reduces the
chances of a consensus agreement. A small group always votes in favour,
such as Finland and the Netherlands; a counter-group, including Austria,
Denmark and Greece, nearly always votes against. The rest abstain or vary
their vote.

When this happens, EU law allows for the Commission to take a decision
when member states fail to do so themselves.

"You do have to ask the question whether the current regulatory machine
is working. The Commission doesn't seem to be that enthusiastic for
GMOs...and it's not like they are very keen for new legislation," one EU
diplomat said.

"You could make changes (to EU laws on authorising GMOs)," he said. "I
can't see how you could easily introduce such a major change. But they
may have a clever plan."

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Fischer Boel backtracks over EU-wide GM crop legislation
SOURCE: European Voice, by Anna McLauchlin
DATE:   30 Jun 2005

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Fischer Boel backtracks over EU-wide GM crop legislation

EU legislation on the co-existence of genetically modified organisms
(GMO) with conventional crops is looking increasingly unlikely, according
to sources. Having opened the door to pan-EU rules on the issue earlier
this year, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel now appears to
be changing her mind.

Fischer Boel's predecessor Franz Fischler shied away from presenting an
EU law on how far apart farmers would have to plant GM crops to avoid
contamination of conventional crops. But in January the Danish
commissioner said that she was in favour of such EU rules, pointing to a
report on GM planting regulations that will be completed by the end of
2005. Austria, which takes over the EU presidency in January 2006, will
hold a conference next spring to discuss how the European Commission will
move forward.

While this is still the official line, behind the scenes in both the
Commission's agriculture and environment departments, binding legislation
is seen as unlikely. "What I hear is that that there is not much interest
in issuing strict legislation," said one official.

"It's true that we were keen to have something more legislative but now
we have to wait and see," said another. "Certainly it would be impossible
to have a one-size-fits-all approach, but there could be a framework that
member states could pick and choose from." In a speech to the Committee
of the Regions on Monday (27 June), Fischer Boel said that the different
conditions across the EU speak in favour of "leaving the member states
the possibility to develop national co-existence strategies under their
own authority".

But the problem of cross-contamination between GM and non-GM crops is
unlikely to go away. Without pan-EU regulation, anti-GM campaigners argue
that differing standards across Europe will eventually lead to a
situation where nothing will be GM-free.

"We need EU-wide standards because each country is bringing in its own
rules, some weaker than others," said Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for
Friends of the Earth Europe.

"Given how food travels around Europe, something will have to be done."

But Simon Barber from biotech association Europabio said that there had
been a lot of scaremongering over the issue. "We would hope that member
states would be left to make their own rules on how they regulate," he said.

The Commission is already gearing up for what one official called
"interesting discussions" about how it approves GMOs in the next few
weeks. Last Friday (24 June), member states sent a strong message that
they wanted to keep their own jurisdiction over GMOs when they rejected
its proposal to lift national bans on GM maize and oilseed rape.

The anti-GM camp has been further strengthened by a decision by a German
court to force US biotech giant Monsanto to publish a study on one of its
GM products, the Mon863, which found that the product is harmful to rats.
Ministers failed to reach a decision on whether to approve Mon863 and the
Commission must now take the next step. The EU executive is caught
between member states, divided on the wisdom of approving GMOs, and the
US, which is leading a coalition pursuing a World Trade Organization
(WTO) case against the EU for blocking imports of GM crops.

A spokesman for the US mission to the EU said that Friday's decision was
"further evidence that the EU's legal structure for regulating
biotechnical products is badly broken and driven much more by politics
than by science. These problems were at the crux of what we have argued
in our WTO case".

An initial verdict on the case is expected in the second week in August.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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