EU gene transfer ban "would kill agbiotech"

Industry responds angrily to MEP proposal to outlaw field gene transfer from GM crops

Europe's biotechnology industry warned yesterday that a European Parliament proposal to ban field transfer of genes from genetically modified (GM) crops to other species could virtually kill off the sector.

The warning was made at a round-table organised by MEP David Bowe to discuss the second reading of plans to revise the EU's 1990 "deliberate release" directive, which governs GMO authorisations for research and marketing purposes. As the parliament's rapporteur, Mr Bowe has repeated a call made at first reading (ENDS Daily 23 February). It is intended to prevent genes for herbicide or antibiotic resistance causing environmental disruption by entering the wild relatives of GM crops.

EuropaBio says gene transfer is a natural phenomenon, which in most cases could only be prevented by not approving GM crops. It wants regulatory authorities to continue to decide through risk assessment on a case-by-case basis whether measures should be taken to eliminate the potential for environmental damage through gene transfer. It is supported by the Commission and EU environment ministers, who rejected the parliament's suggestion last June (ENDS Daily 25 June 1999).

Meanwhile, a renewed push to make GMO producers strictly liable for any damage their products cause is likely to be the most contentious issue at second reading, the meeting confirmed. Environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace both supported Mr Bowe's contention that a liability regime was an essential component in the new rules.

EuropaBio, meanwhile, said liability should be discussed as a horizontal issue in line with the Commission's recent white paper. A representative of the Portuguese EU presidency said that ministers would be discussing this later this month, but warned that they "would have problems" agreeing a parallel regime for GMO regulation in the short time available to pass the new rules.

Mr Bowe admitted yesterday that it would be more difficult to persuade the new Parliament - which includes more centre-right MEPs - to accept the amendments. The plan to introduce a separate liability regime for GMOs would face particular resistance from German MEPs since national liability rules already exist there, he said.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; Mr Bowe's office, tel: +32 2 284 5290.

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