Pressure grows for "GMO-free" regions

European Greens call on governments to allow local exclusion zones under EU deliberate release directive

A campaign to create a network of areas in Europe free of genetically modified (GM) crops was launched in Brussels today at an international conference on the legal and technical issues behind the concept. Organised by the Green and European Free Alliance parties in the European Parliament, the conference was called to highlight frustration among proponents of GM-free zones that GM crops cannot currently be banned at local level even where there is public support for such a move.

"It should be up to regional and local authorities to decide whether they want to refuse the growing of GMO crops in their own territories...higher bodies like national governments or the EU Commission should not have the power to overrule such a decision," said Green MEP Paul Lannoye.

The European Commission is currently battling to lift a de facto EU moratorium on new GM crop approvals and is opposing unilateral moves by some member states to ban crops already given the green light by EU authorities. Late last year the EU's scientific committee on plants backed its case against bans on approved GM maize varieties introduced in Austria and Germany. The disputes may have to be settled by the European Court of Justice.

Conference organisers called on EU governments to create GM-free zones by using a clause in the newly revised "deliberate release" directive which allows them to put conditions on marketing consents for GM products. According to a draft declaration circulated today, participating authorities would forbid all GM cultivation on their territory and the sale of GM-derived foods in outlets under their control. Signs would be erected to inform visitors of an area's status, it says.

Politicians from Italy, the Basque country, Wales and Tasmania, Australia, told the conference of their experiences in creating GM-free areas. Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans said it was a "mockery" that while the Welsh assembly had voted to ban all GM crop experimentation in the principality, EU and national rules meant it could not prevent commercial cultivation.

Follow Up:
Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111, and conference details; Austrian pages on GM-free zones.

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