EU talks on GMO law descend into acrimony

Greens accused of seeking to block progress as governments, MEPs, meet to finalise deliberate release directive

Gritty last-minute talks on revising the EU directive on deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) exploded into a war of words today after a first round of conciliation talks between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers last night.

The parliament's rapporteur on the issue, Socialist David Bowe, was attacked by the Green group, which claimed he was seeking to abandon demands for mandatory public registers of deliberate release sites all over the EU. Mr Bowe denied the claim and said it was: "quite outrageous for team members to criticise another publicly in such an inaccurate manner".

More controversially, the rapporteur went on to allege that both the parliamentary Green group and French environment minister Dominique Voynet - who is leading the Council of Ministers delegation and is also a Green - were seeking to block progress. "The Greens are looking for an excuse not to vote for this," he said.

The implications of any failure of the talks would be enormous. Under EU rules, conciliation talks can be extended for at most eight weeks, and if no agreement is reached then the whole proposal lapses. In this case the legislative process would have to start all over again with a new European Commission proposal. This would mean several more years of political uncertainty, a probable continuation of the EU's unofficial moratorium on approving any new GM crop varieties and further transatlantic trade tensions.

Despite all the shouting, the conciliation committee actually made strong progress last night, with agreements reached on the following issues:

* The parliament won a commitment for the European Commission to be directed to propose a directive setting general environmental liability rules before the end of 2001. Earlier in the process, the parliament had pushed for specific GMO liability rules in the deliberate release directive, finally dropping the demand only at second reading.

* The Council accepted parliament's demand for antibiotic resistance markers to be phased out by the end of 2004 for commercially marketed GMOs and the end of 2008 for experimental releases.

* The parliament also won new rules to require national competent authorities to report fully to the public on any new information on environmental or health risks of GMOs released to the environment.

Remaining issues to be tackled are rules on public registers on the location of GMOs, whether medical substances for human use should be included in the revised directive and how the UN biosafety protocol should be incorporated into the directive.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; Euro Greens; Euro Socialists.

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