EU member states divided on GM products

10.03.06 @ 17:42

  1. By Helena Spongenberg

EU member states remain divided on the contentious issue of genetically modified products despite an end to the bloc's moratorium two years ago.

  • EU environment ministers cannot agree on genetically modified crops (Photo: EUobserver.com)

Most EU countries want to change the way new biotech crops are approved for sale in the 25-member bloc.

"We need more thorough European legislation," Spanish environment minister Cristina Narbona said after an EU environment ministers meeting on Thursday (9 March), according to Bloomberg news agency.

Both Spain and Italy were among those countries asking for stricter rules for approving genetically modified foods during the meeting.

However, some member states, including the UK, Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands, are satisfied with the current system.

The EU’s "regulations provide us with a high level of protection", said Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard.

The European Commission wants to speed up the EU approval process for Europe to get a bigger share in the biotech market which is worth billions of euro.

Last month, the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU had violated trade agreements for years by making it too difficult for new types of genetically modified crops to be approved.

The bloc lifted a ban on genetically modified crops two years ago but, so far, no plans for cultivating biotech crops have been approved within the EU.

Many European governments are concerned about the potential environmental risks of genetically modified food saying it could cross-contaminate neighbouring non-modified crop fields.

National restrictions

Earlier this year, the commission ordered Greece to lift its ban on GMO maize seeds made by US biotech giant Monsanto, arguing Athens did not provide any proof for claims that the products damage human health.

Greek authorities are planning to take the case to the EU courts, but EU judges have previously ruled against a similar ban by the region of Upper Austria.

EU policy on GMOs is based on a 2001 law that provides for a case-by-case authorisation regime for the release of GMO products into the bloc's common market on the basis of a safety check by national authorities and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).

Europe-wide debate

National government attempts to ban GMO products approved in Brussels have come about as a result of popular opposition to the biotech industry.

Last November, Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for an introduction of the toughest restrictions yet in Europe.

Austrian authorities have reacted by promising they would hold a pan-European debate about the future of GMOs across the continent during their current EU presidency, with the meeting scheduled for 4 and 5 April.

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