|BRUSSELS - The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, plans to thrash out soon where it stands on biotech foods in a bid to end the current policy vacuum, the EU's farm chief told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.|
Apart from guarded comments from some members of the new EU executive, little of substance has been said on where the EU might head next with its genetically modified (GMO) food policy. "I think that it's necessary that...those commissioners in charge discuss this, that we sit down round the table," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told Reuters.
While no date has yet been set for the discussion, senior officials are meeting this week to prepare the ground. In the past, five commissioners have dealt with GMOs: representing agriculture, trade, research, environment and food safety.
After that, the entire group of 25 commissioners should hold a debate on biotechnology, the first time since January 2004.
A number of key EU decisions on GMOs are clearly "on hold" while the Commission sorts out what it thinks, officials say.
These include the Commission's approval of imports of a GMO rapeseed and a vote by EU ministers tentatively slated for March on several national GMO bans that the Commission wants lifted.
The issues to be discussed are likely to be how to break the EU's continuing deadlock on GMOs, thresholds for GMO content in seed batches, the World Trade Organisation case filed against the EU for its GMO policy moratorium on new GMO imports, and coexistence: EU jargon for how farmers should separate traditional, organic and biotech crops.
Fischer Boel has mentioned several times that she would be prepared to consider some kind of legal framework for how EU governments should regulate coexistence on national territories, instead of the non-binding guidelines they have at present.
Some of the EU's more GMO-sceptic states have been demanding this for well over a year, but Fischer Boel's predecessor, Austria's Franz Fischler, always insisted it was each country's responsibility to make its own laws. Not many have yet done so.
"I'm quite aware of the fact there are different conditions for growing in north and south, for example," Fischer Boel said.
"We'll see if there are some things that might be the same in all the member countries. Then we might give all the good advice that we can pick up to the member states."
But an EU-wide coexistence law could not be envisaged, she said, adding that the Commission would review all national coexistence laws at the end of the year and then see if some kind of legal "framework" might be proposed in this area.
"To make a common legislation for all the member states, I think that's out of the question because the conditions are so different. That's why some sort of a framework might be the outcome but it's too early to give a distinct message on this."
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE