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US, EU officials target March meet for GMO progress

US, EU officials target March meet for GMO progress
WASHINGTON - U.S. and EU officials on Tuesday said they hope a March meeting of European Union leaders will succeed in expediting Europe\'s approval of genetically-modified products hanging in limbo since 1998 amid objections, notably from France.
Undersecretary of State Alan Larson said the controversy over the EU\'s refusal to approve new GMO products, ranging from foods to pharmaceuticals, \"has to be elevated higher in the consciousness of the top political leadership in Europe.\" Larson, in a speech to the Washington International Trade Association, added that the mid-March meeting of EU leaders in Barcelona, Spain appeared to be the next opportunity for breaking the impasse over GMOs. An EU official, who attended Larson\'s speech but did not want to be identified, concurred, saying: \"The commission wants to put the issue on (the agenda) at Barcelona.\" He added that if EU leaders were to embrace the European Commission\'s urgings that GMO product approvals resume, there could be a very quick move toward certifying one or two new GMO products, such as bio-engineered corn, for use in Europe. EU approvals of 13 genetically modified varieties have been delayed since 1998, when six EU governments, led by France, said there must be tougher rules in place on testing, labeling and tracing of GMO products before product approvals could resume. While European Commission officials have been pushing for renewing the GMO approval process even before labeling and tracing questions were resolved, the issue has remain stuck. That is in part due to consumer fears over GMO products in Europe and elections later this year in France and Germany. But both Larson and the EU official said that in Barcelona, EU leaders will be urged to move ahead on GMO approvals by arguing that not doing so puts European companies at a competitive disadvantage. \"The current state of affairs is causing biotech firms in Europe to flee,\" said Larson. \"They don\'t see a future there. There\'s a competitiveness issue for Europe.\" Novartis and Monsanto are among companies that have been awaiting EU approval of genetically-modified strains of corn, soybeans and cotton. Indicating that the Bush administration was losing patience with Europe\'s foot-dragging on GMO product approvals, Larson also said that he would \"like to see\" the EU \"take the member states to court on this whole issue.\" \"It just seems to me that there\'s only so long that you can go without enforcing the rules,\" Larson said. The EU official said that a court challenge is a possibility. But he noted that it would take several years to wind through the legal system, a timetable that neither the United States nor the European Commission likely had patience for. Story by Richard Cowan REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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