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9-Misc: Italian constitutional court rules regions must decide on GM crops



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TITLE:  Italian Constitutional Court Rules Regions Must Decide on GM Crops
SOURCE: BBC Monitoring Europe - Political, posted by AgBioView, USA
DATE:   24 Mar 2006

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Italian Constitutional Court Rules Regions Must Decide on GM Crops

Text of report by Annamaria Capparelli, entitled "The veto on GMOs falls,
the regions will decide", published by Italian newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore
website on 18 March

Rome: The Constitutional Court has thrown out the law that governs the
coexistence between conventional agricultural crops and those obtained
with genetically modified seeds (GMOs) [Genetically Modified Organisms],
and it indirectly ends the de facto moratorium that so far has prevented
Italy from introducing biotechnology.

From the constitutional aspect, the emphasis is aimed at the question of
jurisdiction, recognizing exclusively to the Regions the right to dictate
the rules on "coexistence" between the two different crops. But the
judges also went into the merits. The ruling was published yesterday, on
the same day as Agricultural Policies Minister Gianni Alemanno, by a
coincidence that not everyone considers accidental, had summoned the
sector to the Chigi Palace's agriculture and foods table to present the
guidelines on coexistence, with a delay of six months.

The minister's order was thus immediately invalidated. The Constitutional
Court in fact "saved" only the first two articles of Law 5/2005, which
introduce the principle of coexistence, sanction the consumer's freedom
of choice between GMO and conventional products, and restrict the crops
to inside production chains that are separate with respect to the
conventional and biological ones. The "ruins" of the law ended up in the
sights of the constitutional judges, who decreed the Regions have
exclusive legislative jurisdiction on the matter.

Challenging the law was the Council of the Marche, one of the 13 Italian
regions that have declared themselves GMO-free.

But the tenor of the verdict does not validate the anti-biotech claims.
And so, an irony of fate, the law was shot down by none other than
"friendly fire". The verdict is very detailed and goes into the merits of
the GMO question and also makes precise reference to the imposition of
limits on the freedom of economic initiative, which has to be justified
by grounded scientific tests.

At this point, the ball passes to the Regions, which will have to
regulate the matter, but keeping well in mind the Community ties.

The European Commission, in fact - which has ruled out making a
regulation of its own on the matter and has thrown back to the individual
countries the task of issuing national rules on coexistence - has
reaffirmed that regional laws with a generalized prohibition on GMO crops
will not be accepted without a justification based on the risks. Thus,
the position is still firm that led the Commission to reject the
legislative bill with absolute prohibition on GMO crops notified by Upper
Austria.

On coexistence, Europe continues in any case to travel in open formation,
and so far only Germany, Denmark, Portugal, and six Austrian states have
notified Brussels of their own rules. Italy had just succeeded, after two
years of work, in putting the text down in black and white that indicates
the things farmers are asked to comply with in the GMO fields and sets,
among other things, the reference distances, which for corn go from a
minimum of 200 meters to 1,000 meters, in order to ensure the minimum
risk of commingling with regard to the biological crops of grain and seed
corn, while for soy beans the grid goes from 50 to 200 meters. The
measure also defines the method of inspection and the conditions for a
return to conventional crops.

At this point, the text may, however, remain just a legislative exercise.
According to Minister Alemanno, "the Constitutional Court has opened a
dangerous passage for widespread contamination of GMO materials also in
the Regions and the prize agricultural areas that want to remain GMO-
free". The minister has already announced he wants to define an emergency
measure, in agreement with the Regions.

On the other hand, the ruling was greeted with satisfaction by Assobiotec
[National Association for Development of Biotechnologies], the
biotechnology development association that is part of Federchimica
[National Federation of the Chemical Industry]. "Finally, in Italy also,"
commented President Roberto Gradnik, "as in the rest of Europe for over
two years already, it is possible to sell and use the authorized GMOs
[that have passed] through the sieve of the most severe standards and the
most rigorous controls existing in the world today."




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