MEP calls for even stricter GMO permit rules

Environment committee asked to endorse export controls, strict civil liability for damage

The European Parliament's rapporteur on new rules for commercial authorisation of genetically modified (GM) organisms for use in the environment has set the assembly on collision course with EU governments by calling for a further strengthening of controls beyond the position adopted by ministers last summer (ENDS Daily 25 June 1999).

In his second-reading report on the "deliberate release" directive, David Bowe told the environment committee yesterday that exports of GMOs to third countries should only be allowed if the importing country gave consent. He also said GM crop developers should be held strictly liable for any damage to the environment or human health caused by their products.

Environment ministers rejected both ideas in their first reading common position last year. Mr Bowe said that recently agreed UN "biosafety" rules for international trading of live GMOs - which include an import consent procedure - now made it more likely they would accept export controls (ENDS Daily 31 January).

Prospects for an specific EU liability regime for GMOs look less certain, though. The same Montreal meeting that approved the UN biosafety protocol left the liability issue to separate negotiations because widely diverging views threatened to scupper agreement on the rest of the text. And, although the parliament previously voted to include a liability regime (ENDS Daily 11 February 1999), members of the centre-right EPP grouping - now its largest group - have already signalled opposition.

In other changes proposed to ministers' common position, Mr Bowe called for a long-term aim of centralised assessment and authorisation of crop releases, penalties for unintentional releases and more careful consideration of potential socioeconomic effects. Antibiotic resistance genes should be banned, he said, and gene-transfer to other organisms in the environment should be prevented.

Despite opposing liability and export measures last year, environment ministers were perceived as having taken a much tougher line on GMOs than both the parliament and the European Commission. Against the parliament's wishes, they shortened permit duration from twelve to ten years and abandoned plans to maintain less rigorous "fast-track" authorisation procedures. Yesterday, Mr Bowe endorsed both decisions.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111. See also Mr Bowe's report, which will be posted on the environment committee's website when the meeting finishes tomorrow.

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