Norway bans six genetically modified products

Minister says antibiotic resistance genes make EU-approved products unacceptable

The Norwegian government has banned six genetically modified products which have received EU marketing approval, in the largest official move against genetic modification by a European country. Although not a member of the EU, Norway is part of the wider European Economic Area, under which most Norwegian market-related laws are harmonised with EU rules. However, there is a clause in Norway's agreement with the EU allowing exceptions where there are over-riding ethical or social considerations. Citing this "security clause," environment minister Thorbørn Berntsen last week banned all marketing in Norway of six modified products on the grounds that they all contain genes coding for antibiotic resistance. One is a herbicide and pest resistant maize produced by Swiss firm Novartis, which has also been a centre of controversy in the EU (ENDS Daily 11 September). Three of the others are agricultural products - a chicory, a tobacco and an oilseed rape. The final two are rabies vaccines designed for pigs. Insertion of antibiotic resistance genes, which is used by genetic engineers to assess whether the genetic modification process has been successful. The maize is resistant to ampicillin, an important medical antibiotic in Norway. The three other plants are resistant to kanamycin and neomycin. "We don't think there is enough evidence that [antibiotic resistance] is safe because of horizontal [gene] transfer both in the environment and to animals eating [the products]," an environment ministry official told ENDS Daily. "Today there exists more than enough scientific knowledge to remove them from products or not to put them in at all." The government's move follows a resolution voted unanimously in the Norwegian parliament earlier this year calling for all modified products coding for antibiotic resistance to be banned. The resolution also called on the government to pursue an international ban. Thorbjørn Berntsen says the government considers this work of great importance. Norway has already proposed such an international ban, during negotiations on a treaty for safe handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the UN biodiversity convention and in connection with ongoing revisions to the EU directive on the "deliberate release" of GMOs to the environment.Follow Up:
Norwegian environment ministry, tel: +47 22 24 90 90.

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