EU states dismiss calls for GMO moratorium

Governments agree "no legal basis" for banning, make headway on GMO release law

EU member states yesterday dismissed calls for a moratorium on approving further releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pending revision of a 1990 EU law governing the subject. The issue was raised during an "orientation debate" on the law's revision following calls by the European Parliament and other groups for a temporary halt to releases. While acknowledging the need for fundamental changes to the 1990 directive, the European Commission said its view was that there was no legal basis for a moratorium.

The debate included a tour de table of member states clarifying their domestic policy on GMO releases. Three countries - France, the UK and Denmark - have recently declared virtual moratoria on the release of certain types of GMOs (ENDS Daily 30 November). Denmark is understood to have been the only country to express clear support for an EU-level moratorium. The majority of countries concurred with the Commission's assessment. They agreed that the best way to address concerns about GMO releases would be for EU institutions to press on with revision of the directive as soon as possible.

The Austrian presidency had hoped to reach political agreement on the directive's revision by yesterday's meeting (ENDS Daily 9 November). It abandoned this aim after the Parliament threatened to postpone its reading of the directive if the Council wound up its negotiations before taking its view into account (ENDS Daily 11 November). Given the parliamentary elections due next year, that could have delayed adoption of the revised directive by over a year.

Instead, the Austrians tried to make headway on a handful of politically charged issues regarding the directive's revision: taking ethical considerations into account in deciding whether to approve GMO releases, building in automatic reviews of release consents, labelling of GMO products, risk assessment and monitoring procedures, and introducing new committee procedures to hand more power to member states to take political decisions on the approval of GMO releases. ENDS Daily understands that member states reached "general orientations" on each of these issues.

On the ethics question, countries felt it should be possible to consult appropriate committees both at EU and national level, but that this should not result in delays to the GMO approval process. On labelling, they felt that it should be made clear whether products contain GMOs, and that a "may contain" label would be too confusing. Member states also felt that there should be an automatic review after a maximum of 12 years of consents for first-time releases. The need for earlier reviews should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

It will now be up to the German presidency to push talks to a conclusion, which it hopes to do in March subject to the Parliament voting on the directive's amendment in February.

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

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