EU countries maintain GMO "moratorium"

Commercial approval decisions must wait for traceability, labelling, proposals due in autumn

EU environment ministers have unanimously supported a de facto moratorium on approvals of new genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be released in the environment until tighter product labelling and traceability rules are at least proposed, it emerged from a ministerial meeting in Paris this weekend.

The informal gathering was organised by the newly-launched French EU presidency. In its note of meeting, the presidency said all countries had "insisted on the necessity to implement measures which allow a reliable labelling of GM products...up to the final consumer," and of "implementing a legally binding framework ensuring the traceability of GM products."

This echoes the position taken by five countries last year to block approvals until the revised deliberate release directive is complemented by more detailed labelling and traceability rules (ENDS Daily 26 June 1999). In a memorandum to ministers, France said the EU needed new "cross-functional texts" to repair "fragmentary and inadequate" laws in the two areas.

EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström announced last week she would address these concerns with law proposals in the autumn (ENDS Daily 13 July). She said these, coupled with legally binding commitments from biotechnology companies to apply the provisions of the new directive even before it enters force in around two years' time, should allow EU approvals to resume by the end of the year.

Ministers said this weekend they would review positions once the proposals were presented, though the presidency statement said "a number" of ministers wanted approvals blocked until a comprehensive framework, including legal liability rules, was in place.

Whether the first three crops on the waiting list will now get the go-ahead depends on how strongly this "hard-core" group - believed to include France, Italy, Greece and Denmark - will insist on liability being introduced.

The Commission says product-specific liability rules would take too long to introduce and stresses that a "horizontal" liability directive is to be proposed next year. The presidency statement says the EU "will not have a satisfactory legal framework" on GMOs until a "decision" on liability is taken, but adds that a liability regime should only be established "when appropriate".

This leaves it unclear to what extent the stronger position is supported by other member states, though sources at the meeting said there was an increasing feeling that a separate regime would be impractical. The Commission will test governments' resolve when it puts forward more crops for approval later this year. It will then need the support of a qualified majority of member states and not all of them, as mistakenly reported in ENDS Daily on Thursday (ENDS Daily 13 July).

Follow Up:
French EU presidency; French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and statement by commissioner Wallström.

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