Belgium, September 9, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Jeremy
Smith, Reuters, 09/08/04: The European Union
approved on Wednesday the first biotech seeds for planting
and sale across EU territory, flying in the face of
widespread consumer resistance to genetically modified
(GMO) crops and foods.
The European Commission also dropped a proposal on
how much GMO material may be tolerated without labeling
in batches of conventional seed -- a controversial law
that has bounced between the Commission's various departments
for over a year.
It authorized 17 different seed strains of maize engineered
by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto from a parent crop that
won approval for growing just before the EU began its
biotech ban in 1998 that lasted nearly six years.
Before Wednesday's decision, the GMO seeds only had
national authorizations issued by France and Spain.
The EU's ban meant that only farmers in those countries
could buy and plant them.
"The maize has been thoroughly assessed to be
safe for human health and environment," Health
and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said
in a statement.
"It has been grown in Spain for years without
any known problems," he said, adding that it would
be clearly labeled as GMO maize to give farmers a choice.
Under an established legal procedure, once an EU state
gives the green light for a seed to be sold on its territory
-- and assuming all EU legislation is complied with
-- the Commission is obliged to extend that authorization
to an EU-wide basis.
The 17 seeds will now be entered into what is called
the Common Catalogue, the EU's overall seed directory
that includes all national seed catalogues. The parent
maize seed, known as MON 810, has been engineered to
resist certain insects.
The move angered greens, who say it is irresponsible
to allow the widespread use of GMO seeds while many
EU countries have no laws on how farmers should separate
organic, GMO and conventional crops to minimize cross-contamination.
So far, the Commission has insisted that EU states
should be responsible for how their farmers segregate
the three farming types: an issue known in EU jargon
Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth (FoE)
described the decision as "a recipe for disaster",
saying it would cause widespread contamination of Europe's
food, farming and environment and remove consumers'
ability to avoid GMOs.
Polls show that more than 70 percent of European consumers
oppose biotech foods because of health and environment
"European member states must step in where the
Commission has failed and ban these GM seeds,"
said FoE's GMO campaigner Geert Ritsema in a statement.
"And without coexistence rules, the widespread
contamination of conventional crops is highly likely,
posing a massive threat to Europe's food, farming and
environment," he said.
Seed purity problem
The Commission said it had failed to reach consensus
on the purity of seed batches containing GMOs and it
would probably be the next executive taking office in
November that would decide.
Spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said there were divisions
within the 25-member college over thresholds -- the
proposal would have allowed maize and rapeseed, the
only two GMO crops authorized, to contain 0.3 percent
GMOs before being labeled as biotech.
"It's not very likely that this Commission will
have time to return to this issue," he told a news
Green groups, who say thresholds should be set at the
lowest technically feasible level of 0.1 percent, welcomed
"It is a very good thing that the Commission acknowledged
that their proposal was not well thought through,"
Greenpeace GMO adviser Eric Gall said in a statement.
The seed proposal is widely seen as the last piece
in the EU's complex jigsaw of GMO laws. The aim is to
kickstart more approvals of live GMO crops after the
bloc allowed imports of a GMO maize in May: the formal
end of the biotech ban.