Plot thickens on supposed EU GMO "ban"

Though continued freeze on permits likely, states fail to sing from same hymn sheet

After apparently reaching a unanimous political agreement to institute a pseudo ban on further permitting of genetically modified organisms during yesterday's marathon Environment Council in Luxembourg, a much more complex position emerged at 6am this morning than the clear EU moratorium claimed by jubilant environmental groups.

During the session, German environment minister Jürgen Trittin repeatedly stated that ministers had reached agreement on the principle of drafting a common political statement. What emerged was a presidency statement supported by six countries, a tougher French statement supported by five, while a further four countries signed up to neither.

Despite this, it remains almost certain that no new GMO authorisations will be granted in practice under the existing EU deliberate release directive until the revised version enters into force, probably in 2001. As acting EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard pointed out during the meeting, the approvals process under the directive has already frozen solid. With more member states adopting a systematic "anti" position on new GMO approvals in the last few months it is now virtually inconceivable that new applications would receive positive votes.

A presidency statement, which was being discussed by ministers as ENDS Daily was published last night, says that supporting countries will "take a thoroughly precautionary approach" when dealing with GMO permit applications while the deliberate release directive is being revised, and will not grant applications unless "it is demonstrated that there is no adverse effect on the environment and human health". Germany received support from Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden for this wording.

Finding the presidency proposal too limp-wristed, France proposed a tougher form of words, explicitly undertaking to refuse any new GMO authorisations until the new directive is in place. Denmark, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg supported this one.

Meanwhile, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Ireland failed to sign either statement, probably with varying motives.

Following the Council session, one diplomat told ENDS Daily that the whole "moratorium" issue had been blown out of perspective. The declarations were a "side-show" to the real issue of amending directive 90/220, he said, and that was the area where ministers had made the most significant progress (see separate story this issue).

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.