EU states debate GM seed contamination

Emergency committee discusses voluntary measures to prevent repeat of GM rapeseed planting

EU governments held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss how to avoid further cases of accidental genetically modified (GM) contamination of agricultural seeds. The session broke up without agreement and a further meeting is set for three weeks' time.

According to a European Commission source, yesterday's session left three outstanding issues: which seed varieties should be tested, which countries' exports should be tested, and what threshold should be set to determine whether a seed batch is contaminated.

The source said a measure of consensus had been found for testing five crop types for which the EU has approved GM varieties: rape, maize, cotton, beet and soya. The group of exporting countries to come under scrutiny is likely to include Canada, the USA, Argentina and Australia.

The Commission is suggesting that seeds contaminated with GM "events" not approved in the EU should be refused import clearance. Its discussion paper makes no mention of any threshold below which contamination would be regarded as acceptable.

For events that do have EU marketing approval under the 1992 deliberate release directive, the Commission says there should be a "reasonable tolerance" of contamination. It recommends 0.5% as an "interim" threshold, pending drafting of a formal law, the same level as recently adopted by the Swiss government (ENDS Daily 5 June). According to sources, Italy and possibly other countries are arguing against this idea, saying that no contamination at all should be accepted.

If, despite the proposed safeguards, contamination is discovered in crops already sown, the Commission says, then EU governments should take "all appropriate measures" to avoid risks to human health and the environment. Destruction of affected crops before flowering "should be considered, taking into account the level of risk involved," it goes on.

The European Parliament's environment committee also discussed GM seed contamination yesterday. UK liberal MEP Chris Davies asked a Commission representative whether a 0.5% contamination threshold for seeds would undermine a separately agreed 1% contamination threshold for foods (ENDS Daily 12 January). The official said he "agreed 100%".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; European Parliament environment committee, tel: 284 2111.

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