LUXEMBOURG - EU environment ministers voted on Friday to uphold eight national bans on specific genetically modified (GMO) maize and rapeseed types, the first time the bloc has agreed anything on biotech policy since 1998.
Following is a short history of the European Union's unofficial moratorium on authorising new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which ended in 2004 after its executive body authorised imports of a biotech maize.
During the ban, the EU did not allow experimental or commercial growth of new gene crops or imports of new GMO-based food products. In or before 1998, approval was given for 18 biotech plants, including maize, rapeseed, chicory and soybeans.
APRIL 1998 - EU's last approvals of new GMO food products.
OCTOBER 1998 - EU authorises two biotech carnation varieties (to improve vase life and modify flower colour), the last live GMO plants to win EU approval. The United States sees this as the point where the EU shuts its doors to new GMOs - at this time, 18 GMOs are allowed for commercial release in the EU.
JUNE 1999 - France and Greece lead calls for de facto moratorium on new GMO approval at meeting of EU environment ministers and win backing from Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg.
They are later joined by Belgium and Austria, forming a minority of EU states that can block any vote on a new approval.
JANUARY 2000 - European Commission adopts regulation that additives and flavourings have to be labelled if DNA or protein of GMO origin is present in the final product.
JUNE 2000 - French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet insists on the need for a liability scheme for biotech products.
JULY 2000 - EU environment ministers say they will support the moratorium at least until proposals are presented for labelling and tracing GMO content in biotech products.
JULY 2001 - European Commission presents labelling and traceability proposals.
OCTOBER 2002 - Updated "deliberate release" directive enters into force, regulating the release of live GMOs into the environment. This repeals previous legislation dating from 1991.
The updated directive sets down a step-by-step approvals process for GMOs or products containing GMOs, and tightens controls on traceability and labelling.
MAY 2003 - United States announces its intention to file a complaint against the EU's unofficial ban on GMOs at the World Trade Organisation.
JULY 2003 - EU adopts strict rules on labelling and tracing all GMO food and feed which apply in all member states from mid-April 2004. The labelling threshold for GMO content in non-GMO food is set at 0.9 percent.
JULY 2003 - European Commission issues guidelines on how to grow and separate GMO crops in Europe's fields to minimise the spread of GMOs to organic and conventional crop cultivation.
AUGUST 2003 - United States, Canada and Argentina challenge the EU over its de facto moratorium on GMOs at the WTO, arguing that the ban is illegal and without any scientific foundation.
SEPTEMBER 2003 - European Commission rejects a request by the regional government of Upper Austria to ban the cultivation of GMO crops and create a GMO-free zone.
OCTOBER 2003 - European Commission delays debate on its proposed seed purity rules setting GMO content in conventional and organic seeds after EU states demand stricter safety checks.
The proposed thresholds range from 0.3 to 0.7 percent.
NOVEMBER 2003 - Government of Upper Austria says it will challenge Commission's ruling on its proposed GMO-free zone at the Court of First Instance - the EU's second highest court.
NOVEMBER 2003 - EU food safety committee fails to agree on proposal to authorise imports of Bt-11 sweet maize, a GMO food whose seeds are made by Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta.
JANUARY 2004 - European Commission passes Bt-11 maize to EU ministers, who have three months to consider the issue and reach a final decision.
FEBRUARY 2004 - EU environment experts fail to agree to allow imports of NK603 maize, made by US biotech giant Monsanto, for use in animal feed. The matter passes to EU ministers who have three months to decide.
APRIL 2004 - EU's updated laws on GMO traceability and labelling in food and feed come fully into effect.
APRIL 2004 - EU ministers lose last chance to approve or reject application to authorise Bt-11, debate ends in deadlock. Application passes to Commission for a rubberstamp approval, effectively ending EU moratorium on new GMO foods.
APRIL 2004 - EU food safety experts fail to agree to allow imports of NK603 maize for its use in processed products for human consumption. Issue again passes to EU ministers with a three-month discussion period.
MAY 2004 - Draft Commission proposal setting GMO content in conventional and organic seeds is leaked by green groups. The proposed thresholds range from 0.3 to 0.5 percent.
MAY 2004 - European Commission ends de facto ban by authorising imports of Bt-11 maize for sale on supermarket shelves as canned sweetcorn.
MAY 2004 TO PRESENT - Several debates at committee and ministerial level on granting approval for importing new GMOs end in deadlock. One more GMO product is approved by the Commission (NK603 maize) in October 2004.
A third product, a rapeseed known as GT73 and made by Monsanto, is awaiting Commission approval following deadlock throughout the EU's decision-making process. No date has yet been set for the approval.
MARCH 2005 - EU food safety authority says 1507 maize, made jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, is safe to grow.
MAY 2005 - EU food safety authority says Syngenta's Bt-11 maize is safe to grow, its second assessment of a "live" GMO.
JUNE 2005 - EU environment ministers uphold eight national bans on GMO maize and rapeseed types, rejecting draft orders from the European Commission that were directed at Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE