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EU to Consider GMO Crop-Growing Laws after April

EU to Consider GMO Crop-Growing Laws after April
LONDON - Europe's farm chief will wait until at least next April to decide whether to draft rules to tell farmers how to separate traditional, organic and genetically modified (GMO) crops, she said on Sunday.

So far, the European Commission has said the EU's 25 member states must take responsibility for how their farmers separate the three farming types and minimise cross-contamination: an issue known as coexistence in EU jargon.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has often said she will address the issue, floating the idea of a vague legal framework setting parameters around which governments will be able to enact their own national crop-growing laws.

Only a handful of governments -- around six or seven -- have GMO coexistence laws, based on a set of broad non-binding guidelines that the Commission published in July 2003.

"We are now following the member states that make legislation on coexistence. There are many different ways of doing it," Fischer Boel told reporters on the fringes of an informal meeting of EU agriculture and environment ministers.

"We will try and get all these different legislations together to see how it could be solved," she said, adding that a decision would be taken on the way forward after a two-day coexistence conference, to be held in Vienna in April.

The Commission has appeared increasingly lukewarm in recent months on whether a "framework GMO law" will be drafted at all.

Several EU countries such as Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark -- notable opponents of GMO crops -- say it is essential to have EU-wide, not national, coexistence laws. After the Vienna conference, "we will decide whether we should like some sort of 'Christmas tree' with some basic ideas for the member states," Fischer Boel said.

"Then it is up to the member states to decorate this 'Christmas tree' with the legislation that they find proper for their regions, because the climatic conditions (in Europe) are completely different," she said.

Proper coexistence laws, whether EU-wide or national, are seen as essential if the Commission wants to ask member states to allow imports of more GMO crops for growing in Europe's fields: the most controversial area in the EU's biotech debate.

Around six "live" GMOs are waiting for approval -- maize and rapeseed types, and a starch potato -- but no dates have yet been set for any meeting.

Biotechnology continues to split EU governments, even after the EU lifted its unofficial ban in 2004 on authorising new GMOs by approving a modified sweet maize type to be sold in cans.

Story by Jeremy Smith

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