EC challenges biotech-free zones

Related tags European union Eu

The European Commission has warned that it might challenge
member-state bans on biotech crops in the European Court of
Justice. Bans have been imposed by Austria, France, Germany,
Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and the UK.

While farmers can group together voluntarily into biotech-free zones, the commission said in a seven-page document on food biotechnology that it would act against any national or regional laws preventing coexistence of biotech and conventional crops.

The EC says that coexistence deals only with GMOs that have been authorised in the EU, and are therefore considered to be safe from the environmental and human health point of view. A blanket ban of all GMOs cannot be justified in terms of protection of human health and the environment, and therefore cannot conform with EU law.

"The EU has put in place a clear, transparent and stringent system to regulate genetically modified food, feed and plants,"​ said Romano Prodi, president of the Commission. "It is only logical that this safe system continues to be applied in practice and that the EU moves ahead with pending authorisations."

However, sceptics believe that the EC's U-turn on GM crops has been influenced by pressure from the US. Farmers in North America have branded the EU's ban, imposed in 1998, as a barrier to trade. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute panel, set up last year at the instigation of the US, Canada and Argentina to settle the issue, backed up the North American claims.

The EC is looked at various ways to win over the seven sceptic countries. The Commission has agreed to submit a draft authorisation for the GM maize NK603, which was recently given the 'risk-clear' from Europe's food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority. Brussels is keen to push this through as soon as possible.

The Commission also recently held a debate on its biotech policy, its first in more than three years. Although fairly inconclusive, participants agreed on the need to address at the EU level the individual safeguard measures - notably GM free zones - on GMOs that have been adopted by various member states.

Touching lightly on the contentious issue of GM seeds - cultivation even more disputed than food and feed - the group gave the all clear for proposing labelling thresholds for the 'adventitious presence of GM seeds' in non-GM seed varieties in the near future.

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