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UK rejects complete ban on GM crops





INDEPENDENT (London) June 25 (old news ???)

UK rejects total ban on GM crops

By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Colin Brown

BRITAIN was last night resisting calls from a number of European countries
- led by France - for a two-year ban on planting genetically modified
crops. The Department for the Environment, Transport and Regions said that
agreeing to the deal would amount to a moratorium which would be illegal
under EU law.

In Brussels, Michael Meacher, the environment minister, opposed calls by
his French counterpart Dominique Voynet for a meeting to agree a freeze.
Mr Meacher said that existing British controls were adequate, including a
voluntary ban on large-scale commercial plantings until safety tests had
been completed.

Last night one of Britain's biggest unions - the GMB, led by John Edmonds
- called for a full independent public inquiry into the safety of GM
products "as the only way of restoring public confidence in GM produce".

The union's appeal was contained in letters to Mr Meacher and the Prince
of Wales, a leading critic of GM. It claimed that 600,000 jobs were at
risk unless consumer confidence was restored. The BSE crisis led to the
lost of 37,000 jobs in agriculture, and the union said it did not want to
see job losses among its members.

In a further blow to the Government, an all-party committee of peers and
MPs yesterday criticised new regulations requiring labelling of GM
products for failing to give adequate protection to consumers.

"People are in danger of purchasing GM foods without realising it. The
government is at fault in law," said its chairman, Tory MP David
Tredinnick. The regulations came into force on 19 March but provide no
penalties for traders selling GM food without volunteering information on
it unless consumers make enquiries.

The Group of Eight world leaders on Sunday called for an international
inquiry into the safety of modified food.

In the face of pressure from at least five EU states, officials were last
night trying to draft a statement designed to clarify Europe's opposition
to the granting of new licenses until new regulations are in place.

France called for a "declaration, with the active cooperation of the
[European] Commission, which would stop a member state being exposed to a
legal challenge".

The French plan for a political statement would commit the EU to
suspending any new GM crop approvals, or allow individual countries to
block licences for environmental reasons. Peter Jorgensen, a spokesman for
acting EU Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, said: "The aim is a
declaration which will underline what is current practice - that there
isn't and won't be a sufficient majority for new products." France,
Greece, Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg supported the temporary end to GM
approvals.

The Commission has put new applications on hold after research indicated
that a breed of butterfly might be endangered by the effects of GM.

However the British government argues that UK safeguards are satisfactory
and says the French move would prevent any new decisions until 2002, in
contravention of existing European law.

That would open up the prospect of legal action from producers in addition
to trade objections through the World Trade Organisation. One British
official said: "I do not think it would be credible for the Council of
Ministers to say it would disobey community legislation."

The meeting in Luxembourg aimed to revise rules under the existing
directive 90/220 for approving new GM crops, amid mounting public concern
about the safety of the technology.

The British government was backing moves to tighten existing rules on risk
assessment and monitoring, and to improve the labelling of products with a
GM content.

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