EU deadlocked on GMO food control, mulls compromise
LUXEMBOURG - EU farm ministers dug in their heels on plans to control genetically modified food yesterday, with little hope of progress towards lifting an effective ban on GM products until at least next month.
For more than three years, EU farmers have been unable to grow or sell most of the GM crops commonly used in the United States after a blocking minority of member states said they would oppose any new permits, pending tougher regulations.
Although deadlock still hangs over the bloc\'s 15 states, there may be a hope of compromise on thresholds for the amount of GM material accidentally occurring in food and animal feed.
\"The picture is very blurred today. There are five or six delegations advocating zero percent (threshold), and five or six advocating one percent or less, on the GMOs that have scientific certificates but no formal approval,\" said an EU diplomat.
\"It was a very useful debate but one that confirms the difficulty we have. We will come back to this at the next meeting in November and try to reach a decision...and draw some conclusions from the very different answers we got today.\"
He was speaking to reporters after a monthly meeting of EU agriculture ministers, or their representatives, in Luxembourg.
The EU has passed tough new criteria on labelling and traceability, which Brussels hopes will convince some of the more sceptical nations to agree to authorising new GM crops.
Feed products which would be candidates for GMO (GM organism) labelling include soymeal, corn gluten and refined products such as sugar and starch where DNA cannot be traced.
The European Commission is keen to see the moratorium lifted and GM authorisations begin again, at least for the 10 or so applications still pending.
This would pave the way for GM products, dubbed \"Frankenstein foods\" by concerned consumers, to make their way into the EU\'s food chain.
On the negotiating table are proposals for a maximum one percent threshold for the presence of GM material, intended or unintended, in food and feed. This is opposed by nearly half of member states, who insist on lower levels.
States with the hardest line in the push for zero tolerance for the unintended presence of GM material, the area of most consumer concern due to difficulties involved in monitoring the food chain, are Belgium, Austria, Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg.
Denmark, as current EU president, has offered a compromise for a two to three year transition on unintended GM presence for the handful of products awaiting approval.
Commission officials said this idea stood a good chance of seeing agreement next month, as did a proposal to lower the one percent threshold under certain circumstances.
\"People have realised the subject has to be addressed, it was the most positive discussion we have had in (Agriculture) Council on GMOs,\" said one.
\"The moratorium was not discussed but everyone understands legislation is a next step to lifting the moratorium,\" she said.
Already this week, updated legislation comes into force that requires products containing more than one percent of GM material to be labelled. New GM goods will have to undergo a full risk assessment before receiving a 10-year authorisation which would then have to be renewed at the end of that period.
The Commission was upbeat despite the lack of agreement.
\"There was substantial agreement on the thrust of the legislation. Hopefully, we will be able to fine-tune and adjust positions with the hope of reaching agreement at the next (Council) meeting,\" said EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne.
\"There is no question of lifting the moratorium this week but we are moving inexorably in that direction. Inevitably, there will be a lifting of the moratorium but when, we are not clear,\" he told a news conference.
But Herve Gaymard, France\'s Agriculture Minister, was less sure on the timing. \"The (consumer) fear is there. We have to be extremely cautious,\" he told reporters.
Asked if tighter laws would bring agreement, he said: \"We will see how things develop. We will have to take a decision but it will not have to be taken for nine to 10 months\".
Despite the attempts by Brussels to tighten GMO legislation, environmental groups are still concerned that the new laws are not tough enough, and claim there may be loopholes which give the material a \"back-door\" entry into EU markets.
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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