GENTECH archive 8.96-97


GE maize and European democracy

here is a DRAFT briefing we are working on about the WIERD 
process in the EU....

Only one EU country, France, supported the authorisation of 
Novartis' genetically-engineered  Bt corn (maize) in the 
European Union, and even France was not sure. How,  then,  was 
it authorised?


The GE industry is happy to say that  Bt maize has
been declared safe and approved by European Union authorities as 
well as by the US ones.  But the EU approval  came despite the 
fact that only one of the 15 EU states (France) wanted it, and 
even France was wavering. (reference at end).  Many people have 
asked how the maize was authorised despite so much opposition 
and despite the fact that the Council of Ministers of the 15 
countries finally asked the Commission to withdraw their 
proposal to approve it. 

The answer lies in the complex decision EU decision making
rules and procedures on GMOs,  which give most power to the
Commission.  Essentially, the Commission makes proposals to
committees made up of representatives of the member states, and
those committees can either: 
a) vote by majority to approve the proposal or 
b) vote by UNANIMITY to reject it.  

In other words, under the voting procedures of Directive
90/220, unless all member states UNANIMOUSLY reject something
that the Commission wants to do, then the Commissioners can
ignore the member states wishes. 

A brief description of  the complex history of the approval of  
Bt maize follows, but as you read on,  remember that at the 
end of the process 13 of 15 countries, ADVISED BY THEIR OWN 
SCIENTIFIC ADVISORS, did not want the maize, because of the 
poor scientific data in the proposal.  Greenpeace says that 
scientific data was flawed and incomplete.:

1994 Ciba Geigy gives scientific dossier on Bt maize to French 
govt for consideration. Almost all  of that data was from the 
company's own experiments, but it (conveniently?) did not 
contain some negative data which Ciba Geigy earlier 
submitted to US authorities (like the fact that it can harm 
beneficial organisms).

1995 France passes dossier and decision-making to European
Commission for application under Directive 90/220/EEC

April 1996
The European Commission proposes the maize to the 
so-called 'Article 21' committee, made up of representatives of 
the member states. Many of them were doubtful (either voting 
against or abstaining).  Because they did not reach a majority 
opinion to approve the Commission's recommendation, the rules 
allowed the Commission to take the decision-making to the 
Council of Ministers (that is, the Environment Ministers of the 
15 member states).  

June 1996 
The Council of Ministers met, and only France  was in
favour.  Spain  was undecided.  The 13 other states did not
want the Bt maize, for various reasons. The Council decided not
to vote on the proposal (see 'what if' below) and the asked the
Commission to withdraw the proposal.  The wording of Directive
90/220/EEC says that a proposal from the Commission will be
adopted within three months "if the Council has not acted".   
By not voting on the Commissions' proposal, the Council of
Ministers are considered to have "not acted", even though they
asked for the withdrawal of the proposal.

The Commission then 'consulted' its OWN scientific committees, 
with very narrow terms of reference.  That is another story...

December  1996
Based on those scientific committess, the Commission decided to 
authorise the import and cultivation of the maize.

January 1997
Leaked minutes of the Commission discussions revealed 
that the fear of 'trade problems' with the USA had been involved 
in the appoval.

Why didn't the 15 ministers vote in the Council and what 
would have happened if the 15 ministers HAD  voted?  The 
vote would have been 13 against, 1 in favour and 1 abstention.  
Again, they would have "not acted" to approve the Commissions 
proposal, and "not acted" to unanimously reject it, and the 
maize would have received authorisation.  By refusing to vote 
and demanding that the Commission withdraw the proposed 
authorisation, they were hoping to use their political power 
OUTSIDE the committee rules ("comitology")  to stop the maize.  
This is because they realised they had no chance inside  
"comitology" to do so.      

Some observers commented that the 13 ministers realised they 
couldn't win the comitology game because of the unfair rules, so 
they just walked off the field before before the final whistle.  

Jan 97 to present  
-  EU members Austria and Luxembourg have temporarily refused to
allow the maize into their countries, under Article 16 of 
- France and Italy have decided not to allow it to be 
grown, temporarily, 
- the European parliament has voted 407 to 2 to demand that the 
authroization is suspended.  
- US government and industry lobbying pressure has increased
- An Austrian referendum has overwhelmingly endorsed the 
Austrian ban 

The story continues: within weeks, (probably by 14 May), the 
Commission must decide whether to allow Austria and Luxembourg 
to maintain their bans on Novartis maize, or allow them to 
continue to have trade barriers inside the "common" market.  The 
current position of the Commision is that these bans should not 
be allowed. 

QUOTE: "Only one country, France, supported the position (to
approve the maize) and even they were wavering" a Commission
spokesman told reporters.  "The rest said, for different reasons,
withdraw it or reconsider it," he said of the proposal. ---
Reuters 26 June, 1996,  after the 15 environment Ministers met.

Peter Morris, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace Int, Amsterdam
voice: +31 20 5249529   email: