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Big majority of EU governments demand changes to biotech crop approval system (9/3/2006)

Encouraging news and see what they have to say about the European Food Safety Authority.

EXCERPTS: Many EU ministers complained... that EFSA's scientific reviews were not open enough to scrutiny nor were they independent.

Several EU nations argued that evaluations by the EU agency were too quick, ignoring national concerns and were only based on information supplied by the company applying for an EU license to sell their product in Europe.

"I am aware of the criticism," Dimas said after the debate by EU environment ministers. "Certain changes may be beneficial."
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Big majority of EU governments demand changes to biotech crop approval system
By CONSTANT BRAND
Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

A large majority of EU nations demanded changes Thursday in the way decisions are made on the approval of new biotech crops in the bloc, arguing that previous decisions to approve eight such products since the EU lifted its moratorium were done without proper research.

Only three countries -- Britain, the Netherlands and Ireland -- said the current system was rigorous enough to meet high public safety concerns over the use of genetically altered crops for use.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas acknowledged the EU rules could be changed, only three years after the current ones came into force, in wake of the widespread disapproval. He said the way experts review product applications at the European Food Safety Agency could be changed.

"I am aware of the criticism," Dimas said after the debate by EU environment ministers. "Certain changes may be beneficial."

Dimas said while eight products have been approved since 2003, no decisions would be taken on the use of new biotech crops for cultivation until EU nations agree to new so-called coexistence guidelines, to prevent genetically altered crops from spreading to non-biotech crops nearby.

A clash over the approval procedures has been simmering since last June, when Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece invoked national safety clauses to keep bans in place on a range of biotech crops already approved by the 25-nation EU.

The call by many for even tougher testing and review of new biotech crops could further strain divisions with the United States and others that argue that the EU is violating world trade rules in restricting imports of biotech crops.

A February World Trade Organization preliminary ruling on a U.S. complaint filed against the EU's biotech moratorium was unclear whether the EU violated world trade rules. Both Brussels and Washington claimed victory, ensuring the issue would remain a key trade irritant in the years ahead.

At Thursday's debate, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the current system put EU governments in an "unacceptable position," arguing that products can still be approved under EU rules despite stalemate or opposition from a majority of EU nations.

Under the biotech approval system, the European Commission has last-say to decide on clearing new biotech crops if member states reach a stalemate.

The product must also be approved by the European Food Safety Agency, which is supposed to ensure it is safe to use. "There is a big majority against genetically modified organisms in public opinion, that is clear," said Stravros Kayloyannis, Greek deputy environment minister.

Many EU ministers complained, however, that EFSA's scientific reviews were not open enough to scrutiny nor were they independent.

Several EU nations argued that evaluations by the EU agency were too quick, ignoring national concerns and were only based on information supplied by the company applying for an EU license to sell their product in Europe.

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