EU agrees future regulation of GM seeds

France pushes for wider look at implications for agricultural practice, environment

EU agriculture ministers have reached a political agreement on a package of directives governing procedures for new seeds that should eventually take over the role of authorising genetically modified crop varieties from the EU's "deliberate release" directive. The hand-over will take at least two years, an EU diplomat told ENDS Daily.

Seven directives, dating from between 1966 and 1970 and known collectively as the seeds package, govern authorisation for commercialisation of seeds for different agricultural crops. Revisions to the package were put forward by the European Commission in 1993 as a single market measure. The proposal to include provisions to govern authorisations of GM seeds only emerged during the negotiations.

This Tuesday, the plans were approved by a qualified majority of EU countries. Under the agreement, controls to be imposed on GM seeds will be "as strict" as those currently in force under the deliberate release directive, sources say. Moreover, any new measures introduced under the ongoing revision of the deliberate release directive will be automatically introduced to the seeds package.

Ministers also agreed that where authorisation of a new GM seed constitutes acceptance of products deriving from it then this procedure would be based on article 100a of the EU treaty rather than on article 43, which is the legal basis of the seeds package. The significance of this, according to a Danish diplomat, is that member states could trigger the "environmental guarantee" clause in the 1997 Amsterdam treaty if they objected to an EU authorisation.

Under another provision, GM seeds will have to be labelled as such at all stages in their production and marketing. An indication that a seed variety is genetically modified will also have to appear in national and EU seed catalogues.

Meanwhile, the French delegation attached a position paper to the Agriculture Council's conclusions in which it expresses concern at gaps in the current regulatory framework and calls for a broader analysis of the implications of GM crops.

No EU law enables control to be exercised over separation of GM and non-GM lines after harvests, even though tracability is a key requirement for providing consumer choice, France argues.

Nor is the regulatory framework adequate to assess broader implications of GM crops for the agricultural economy or for the environment, the position paper continues. For example, it says, the risk of multiple herbicide resistance will not be addressed, though it could arise if five modified crop varieties were authorised with resistance to five different herbicides.

According to sources in the Council, other countries resisted France's specific proposals, but agreed with the principle that agricultural evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of GM varieties was "of interest". The European Commission is now set to issue a declaration on ways that these issues could be addressed through the EU standing committee on seeds.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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