Revised EU rules on GMO releases finalised

Parliamentary Greens claim victory over requirement for public registers of GM crop locations

The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have agreed on revisions to the EU law on "deliberate release" of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the environment after what have been described as "heated" conciliation talks. The deal comes over three years after proposals for the revision emerged from the European Commission (ENDS Daily 26 November 1997).

Green members of the European Parliament have claimed a significant victory, having won a new requirement for national authorities to publicise the locations not only of GM crops planted for testing but also of commercially grown crops. This was the key remaining friction point after the bulk of disagreements were cleared up last month (ENDS Daily 10 November).

In an unusual twist, the final deal appears to have been driven by an alliance of Green politicians in both the Parliament and the Council. Parliamentary Greens today specifically complimented Green French environment minister Dominique Voynet, who led the Council delegation to the talks. Earlier on in the process, Green MEPs exchanged harsh words with the Parliament's Socialist rapporteur on the directive.

Though governments have acceded to Parliament's demand on public registers, the final text suggests that the Greens' victory may be less than complete. Member states will have to establish registers for both experimental and commercial releases of GMOs, but will have significant leeway to decide exactly how to make this information public.

Another key outcome of the conciliation talks is agreement on a new requirement for an already agreed ten-year limit on GMO marketing approvals to be applied also to further renewals. Biotechnology interests had campaigned strongly against such an outcome. For GM crops and forestry reproductive material, the rule is to be slightly softened. Ten-year approval periods will start when varieties of plant are placed on national seed catalogues rather than when GM "events" are approved under the deliberate release directive.

The Parliament has also won a concession from EU governments on establishing links between the directive and the UN Cartagena protocol on biosafety. The Commission is to be invited to propose ways of implementing the protocol by July 2001.

First passed in 1990, the deliberate release directive became the focus of intense political debate as public fears about GM crops spread through Europe in the late 1990s. EU governments imposed a quasi-moratorium on new approvals in summer 1999 (ENDS Daily 24 June 1999), which remains in place, and the European Commission has been forced to make supplementary proposals for strengthened labelling and traceability of GM products (ENDS Daily 27 November).

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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