Food Safety Concerns in Europe
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Food Safety Concerns in Europe
No end in sight for EU block on new GM foods
Here are excerpts from a Reuters news report, showing that concern for safety and science in Europe has temporarily stalled the efforts of corporate lobbyists.
by Robin Pomeroy
European Union governments rejected the idea of lifting a three-year ban on importing and planting new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a position a top EU official warned could be seen as illegal.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, many environment ministers from the 15-country bloc spoke against plans by the EU’s executive Commission’s to restart licensing GM seeds and crops — a process that has been stalled since 1998.
Although no formal decision was taken, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said it was clear from the discussion that governments did not want to accept her advice and lift the moratorium on new GM licences.
“This is problematic and I don’t know how to solve it,” Wallstrom told ministers.
Companies like Monsanto and Novartis have been lobbying for years to sell their genetically modified maize, soy and cotton in the EU without any labelling or new safety tests.
A total of 13 GM varieties have been affected by the rules, since 1998 when a core of six EU governments, led by France, said they would not allow any new GMOs into the EU until rules on scientific testing, labelling and tracing were put in place.
The Commission fears a legal suit from the biotech firms which, it believes, could force it to overrule national governments and approve the GMOs for use anywhere in the EU. This could become a classic showdown between Profits and Consumer Safety.
Wallstrom said the EU may be open to a complaint from GMO exporters like the United States at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Commission suggested earlier this month the EU should license new GMOs as long as their makers agreed to be bound by the new rules, some of which have already been agreed in principle by EU institutions but have yet to come into force.
In a debate transmitted to journalists via television, only Spain, the Netherlands and Britain showed any willingness to accept the Commission’s idea. Many more member states said draft rules on labelling and tracing GMOs would first need open, democratic debate.
“It isn’t possible to start discussing a possible end to the moratorium as long as there is no operational system on traceability and labelling, and that is some way off,” French Environment Minister Yves Cochet told the meeting.
It could take another two years for countries to formally adopt the Commission’s proposed regulations on traceability and labelling, Wallstrom said.
The delay would be longer if member states insisted, as France and Luxembourg said they might, on a major new directive on environmental liability to be drafted and passed into law before new licences were granted.
Crops such as maize, soy and cotton modified to increase resistance to disease or increase yield, are widely used on consumers in the United States without safety testing and are treated much the same as conventional strains.
But public opinion in Europe, bruised by the mad cow affair when scientific advice failed to prevent the spread of a lethal new disease, has proved sceptical to GMOs, often characterised in the press as “Frankenstein foods.”
Only 11 GM strains were granted licences to be cultivated in the EU before the moratorium was introduced. Some 50 strains are commonly planted in countries like the United States and Argentina, Wallstrom said.
The proposed rules on traceability, which have themselves infuriated U.S. agribusiness corporations, would make it possible to trace GM crops back to the farm they were grown in, making product recalls possible if health risks were found. The US opposes such accountability measures.
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