GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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EU Plans Mandatory GMO Labeling



    By Patrick Chalmers     BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuter) - Mandatory labelling
rules for all gene-modified organisms released into the environment could
become law in the European Union within weeks if a plan hatched by European
Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard succeeds. 

    One official said on Friday Bjerregaard wanted the European Commission's
weekly meeting on April 2 to agree draft rules enforcing labelling which, if
agreed, could have profound effects on seed suppliers, farmers and bulk
commodity exporters. 

    The term genetically modified organism (GMO) includes an array of living
things ranging from laboratory mice to yeasts, vegetables and grains. 

    At the centre of the labelling debate is whether GMOs released to the
environment should face blanket labelling requirements to allow processors,
retailers and consumers to distinguish between GMO and non-GMO produce. 

    Opponents, who include European Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan,
would prefer something more flexible. 

    The official, who asked not to be named, refused to elaborate how far
planned labelling requirements would go or how they might apply to GMO seed
sales or their cultivation, harvesting, export and processing. 

    "The intention is to provide mandatory labelling for all GMOs released
under directive 90/220," said the official in reference to existing EU laws
on GMO releases. 

    Under the EU law which Bjerregaard has chosen to use, the proposal, if
adopted in Commission, would go to a committee of EU country officials whose
approval could make it law within weeks. 

    Such an approach would leapfrog previously announced plans to review GMO
release rules and to issue interim labelling guidelines while legal changes
are considered. 

    The Commission, facing a broadside of criticism for its handling of the
"mad-cow" disease in cattle, is now hugely sensitive on food safety issues
and the danger of further damage to EU consumers' already battered confidence
about what goes on to their dinner tables. 

    The EU executive recently escaped a European Parliament censure motion
over its handling of the "mad-cow" affair, doing so only on the back of
promises to separate officials responsibile for food safety from those
dealing with farming. 

    Another element forcing change is last year's Commission decision to
clear Ciba <CIGZn.S>Geigy's GMO maize for sale and cultivation in the EU, a
move attacked by environmentalists for several reasons including the lack of
labelling rules to prevent the separation of the Ciba maize from existing
varieties. 

    Despite Commission clearance, confusion still surrounds EU rules on
selling the Ciba maize with Austria and Luxembourg having announced import
bans and France and Italy having banned cultivation of the strain in this
year's harvest. 

11:30 03-21-97