EU Council heads for clash with MEPs over GMOs

Parliament likely to delay vote on GMO law revision if ministers try to pre-empt it, warns MEP

Plans to revise a 1990 EU law on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could be seriously delayed if the EU council of ministers reaches agreement on the revised law before the European Parliament gives its opinion on it, an MEP warned today.

The Austrian government, which holds the EU presidency until the end of the year, has made it clear that it wants ministers to reach a "political agreement" on the changes they will accept to the law by the end of its term of office (ENDS Daily 10 November).

But the Parliament is not due to vote on its proposed amendments to the law until next February at the earliest. Ministers would therefore be breaking the spirit of an EU protocol that says they should not make up their minds about a law before they have considered the Parliament's opinion, UK Socialist MEP David Bowe told ENDS Daily.

There are precedents to suggest that MEPs are likely to react strongly to such a snub, according to Mr Bowe, who has been appointed by the Parliament's environment committee to draft its opinion on the GMO law.

"I would predict trouble if the Council comes to anything like a political agreement before we vote on our opinion," he told ENDS Daily. He said MEPs were likely to react by postponing their vote until after the parliamentary elections next summer, which could set back the process of adopting a revised law by a year or more.

Even if stalemate between the Council and the Parliament is avoided, it looks certain that ministers and MEPs will clash over the substance of the GMO law. ENDS Daily has obtained a copy of Mr Bowe's draft report on the law, which calls for a significant strengthening of safeguards against risks posed by GMOs.

Proposed amendments include the introduction of a liability regime to cover any damage caused by GMOs, accompanied by compulsory insurance requirements for companies. Far greater public consultation and provision of information before experimental releases of GMOs are also proposed.

Mr Bowe wants authorities to refuse releases of any GM crops where they are likely to cross-breed with weedy relatives, and he says the use of antibiotic-resistance genes and those likely to cause allergies should be forbidden.

In addition, looking forward to a time when there are many more GMOs released to the environment, Mr Bowe proposes that each GMO should carry a "gene marker" enabling it to be traced back to the company that developed it. A certification system should also be introduced to track the passage of each GMO through the supply chain.

Another controversial proposal is that authorities should be required to carry out a socio-economic cost benefit analysis as part of their risk assessment before authorising commercial releases of GMOs.

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

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