Belgium, December 10, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- AFP,
12/08/03: The European Union postponed again
a decision on lifting a four-year ban on bio-engineered
crops which has angered the EU's trading partners, in
particular the United States.
EU experts handed over to ministers a decision on allowing
the import of import a type of a form of genetically
modified (GM) sweetcorn, Bt-11. Under EU rules, ministers
will have three months in which to make a decision.
EU health commissioner David Byrne's spokesman said
the required majority was not secured on the standing
committee for the food chain, which gathers scientific
representatives from the 15 member states.
" We've always realized that this is a difficult
decision," said spokesman Beate Gminder. "It's
a difficult situation for the member states, it's something
that's difficult to explain to citizens and consumers,"
Environmental group Friends of the Earth welcomed the
" There is clearly no scientific consensus over
the safety of this modified sweet corn. The decision
not to approve it is a victory for public safety and
common sense," said Geert Ritsema of Friends of
the Earth Europe.
Six countries of the 15-member bloc -- Britain, Finland,
Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden -- voted
in favour. Three countries abstained -- Belgium, Germany
and Italy -- while six voted against: Austria, Denmark,
Greece, France, Luxembourg and Portugal, she said.
The EU had already delayed the vote last month, after
a number of EU countries sought "clarification"
before taking the decision.
The decision is likely to be put to ministers in January,
the European Commission, the EU's executive body, said.
Chief spokesman Reijo Kempinnen noted that if ministers
fail to agree on action within three months, the file
returns to the Commission for a decision.
If the EU experts had agreed to allow Bt-11, it would
effectively have lifted a de-facto moratorium in place
since 1999 against the import and cultivation of GM
products in the EU.
The EU decision -- against a backdrop of public disquiet
in Europe on the issue of "Frankenfoods" --
is being closely watched by its trade partners, notably
by the United States, which has the world's biggest
Along with Argentina and Canada, the United States
has appealed to the World Trade Organisation to overturn
the EU ban.
The European Commission has proposed approving Swiss
firm Syngenta's application to import Bt-11 as part
of a campaign to encourage the GM industry in Europe.
Syngenta's hopes were raised last week when the EU's
Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said another type of GM
maize made by US giant Monsanto, NK 603, was entirely
safe for human consumption.
The EU health commissioner last week appealed to the
member states and Europe's public to base their perception
of food safety on science rather than fear.
" If we fail to make progress, there is a very
real danger that an anti-science agenda may take root
in European society leading to a society hampered and
restricted by a collective neurosis," Byrne said
But opponents of GM crops say much more research needs
to be done to gauge their impact on health and the environment.
The EU's moratorium was imposed in 1999 at the initiative
of five countries -- Denmark, France, Greece, Italy
and Luxembourg, which were later joined by Austria and
The bloc has made some progress on the issue, enacting
two directives in October on labelling and tracing of
GM directives that the Commission said would open the
way to lifting the ban.
But Washington has attacked the directives as protectionism
in disguise, and a "no" vote on Monday will
only keep one transatlantic trade row rumbling on just
as the two sides bury a bitter dispute on US steel tariffs.