MEPs' vote gives boost to biotech industry

GMO licences would not have 7 year time limit under proposed amendment to directive

The environment committee of the European Parliament has given a boost to the biotechnology industry, by recommending that time-limited authorisations should not be introduced to the EU approvals process for new varieties of genetically modified crops.

The committee voted today on a series of proposed amendments to the revised text of the EU directive on the "deliberate release" of GMOs (ENDS Daily 26 November 1997). During the debate, MEPs were divided on whether the legislation should make the procedure easier or more difficult for companies to receive approval for GM products, but eventually passed an amendment to make GMO approvals open-ended. This is a shot in the arm for the industry, which has lobbied hard to remove the Commission's proposal that authorisations should be reviewed every seven years (ENDS Daily 29 October 1998).

The amendment - which can still be overturned by the full Parliament or subsequently by the Council of Ministers - states that an authorisation "can [...] be restricted to a period of 12 years [...] where there is not adequate monitoring experience concerning the placing on the market of comparable GMOs."

Parliamentarians tabled more than 170 amendments to the text, and at the end of a two-hour voting session, 11 MEPs, from both the left and right wings, abstained from approving the report. It will go to the full Parliament next month.

The committee's European People's Party members felt that the report, drafted by UK Socialist David Bowe, did not go far enough in simplifying the system for industry. German Christian Democrat Peter Liese criticised an amendment which would make companies financially liable for any future damage caused by their products, noting that the Commission is about to publish a policy paper on environmental liability in general.

Mr Liese also criticised an amendment which would restrict "simplified" authorisations for GMOs with wild relatives, or those containing antibiotic resistant, allergy-causing, toxic or pathogenic trails. Mr Liese noted that even natural wheat and milk provoke allergies in some people.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Green party called for an outright ban on this type of GMO, a proposal that won little support in the committee. The Greens said they would re-table their main amendments at the full parliamentary session.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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