MEPs to demand moratorium on GMO consents

Commission urged to halt legal actions against Austria, Luxembourg, over maize bans

The European Parliament's environment committee is to call on the European Commission to suspend all new authorisations of genetically modified (GM) crops until MEPs have looked at a proposed revision of the EU law governing how licences are granted.

At a meeting yesterday afternoon, the committee also decided to call for suspension of EU legal actions against Luxembourg and Austria over their bans on Novartis maize - a GM crop which has already been approved at EU level under the existing directive.

The move will add further fuel to a fire raging in Europe over the introduction of modified crops. France decided recently to ban the cultivation of GM oilseed rape (canola) for two years (ENDS Daily 3 August). Hints emerged last weekend of a similar move by the UK government (ENDS Daily 9 October).

Speaking in the committee's session, UK Socialist MEP David Bowe said it would make sense to temporarily halt further authorisations of GM crops as the EU's 1990 "deliberate release" directive was "clearly deficient".

The Parliament will begin looking at a proposed revision of the directive within weeks. The draft is already under scrutiny in the Council of Ministers (ENDS Daily 7 October). According to Mr Bowe, authorising new crop varieties in the meantime would set "contradictory precedents".

"The more confusing decisions we have, the more doubts that are caused, the harder it will be to arrive at a consensus," he told the committee. The only committee member to object to the letter was French Conservative MEP Christian Cabrol, who said it was "totally lacking in logic".

Committee chairman Ken Collins told his colleagues that sending the letter would be procedurally difficult. Under EU rules, the Parliament had a right to comment on the bans by 11 September, but failed to do so. "Procedurally, we don't have a leg to stand on," Mr Collins said.

Nevertheless, anti-GMO campaigners have described the committee's move as a "sensation". "After this it will be more difficult for the European Commission to reject the demands for more precaution in the introduction of the new genetically engineered crops to the European market," said Thomas Schweiger of Greenpeace.

The biotechnology industry was surprised by the initiative. Doris Ponzoni of EuropaBio said a moratorium would have no scientific basis and would only serve to confuse the situation further. The existing directive should continue to be used until the revision was passed, she said.

A spokesperson for EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard pointed out that the Commission had not yet begun legal proceedings against Austria and Luxembourg over their maize bans, but that the Commission's opinion was that they should be repealed. The spokesperson also questioned the legal basis of any call by the Parliament's environment committee for suspension of the existing deliberate release directive.

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

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