MEPs begin scrutiny of GMO release law

Committee debates GMOs, ozone depleters, air quality, waste landfilling, fuel sulphur

The European Parliament's environment committee this week began looking at proposals to re-vamp the way the EU authorises the release and marketing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The rapporteur on the revision of the "deliberate release" directive, UK Socialist MEP David Bowe, said that GM crops should be segregated from traditional varieties and that they should also carry a genetic marker so they can be traced through to the point of consumption. This, he told fellow MEPs, would enable the consumer to decide whether or not to accept GM foods.

He also said he wanted to see further measures to reduce the risk of "superweeds" being created by a GMO cross-breeding with wild species, and proposed a ban on any GMO with antibiotic resistant or harmful characteristics. Another proposed amendment would make companies liable under civil and criminal law for any damage to human health and the environment, even if they had been given consent to release the GMOs (ENDS Daily 11 November).

Mr Bowe's report contains some elements that will please the biotechnology industry, including a proposal to set a 90-day maximum time limit for public consultations, instead of the unspecified period allowed under the European Commission's original text. Mr Bowe also leaves intact the Commission's proposal to have a "simplified procedure" approval regime for certain GMOs.

In its three-day session this week, the environment committee scrutinised several other pieces of environmental legislation currently on the EU agenda. The main ones were as follows:

Ozone-depleting substances:

The committee voted through a range of proposed amendments to the draft directive on ozone-depleting substances which aims to phase out methyl bromide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Pending a vote from the full parliament, MEPs will propose to speed-up the early stages of a planned HCFC production phase out.

The Commission has proposed an initial stabilisation in production of HCFCs in 2000, followed by a cut to 35% of this level in 2008. The committee voted to require instead a cut in production to 75% of the reference level in 2001, to 55% in 2004 and to 30% in 2008.

The committee also approved amendments to ban the use of HCFCs in solvents by 2000, and in refrigeration and air conditioning by 2005. In both cases, this is three years earlier than the Commission's proposal.

Air quality standards:

The committee voted through ten amendments aimed at tightening up a draft law limiting levels in ambient air of sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead. EU environment ministers reached a common position on the dossier earlier this year and this second reading by parliament has no legally binding status (ENDS Daily 18 June).

A Commission official said that there was little chance that ministers would give way to parliament's amendments because many countries had said they would already find it difficult to achieve the figures reached in the common position, particularly on oxides of nitrogen and particulates.

Waste landfilling:

MEPs also launched the Parliament's second reading of the draft directive on landfilling of waste (ENDS Daily 20 February). The rapporteur, UK Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson, tabled a number of amendments to tighten the rules, such as reducing the maximum amount of biodegradable waste allowed in landfill to 25% within 15 years of the directive coming into force, compared with the 35% agreed by ministers in their common position.

Ms Jackson also proposed inserting "guidelines" on creating a 0.5 kilometre buffer zone between landfill sites and water bodies or areas used by humans or agriculture. She said the fact that the parliament has only consultative powers at this stage of the legislative process meant that guidelines, rather than mandatory measures, would be the best MEPs could hope for. The committee and then the full parliament will vote on the issue early next year.

Sulphur in liquid fuels:

In June, ministers reached a common position on the draft directive to limit levels of sulphur in heavy fuel oil, bunker oil and gas oil, which the parliament's rapporteur, Green Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala, found "quite satisfactory". This week, she presented only three draft amendments to the committee, which would tighten the some of the deadlines and limit values. Again, parliament's consultative role in the second reading means that these will not be binding on ministers.

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

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