EXCERPTS: Hungary, one of the EU's biggest grain producers, became the first country in eastern Europe to ban GMO crops or foods when it outlawed the planting of MON 810 maize seeds in January 2005.
The precedent for national GMO bans was first set in 1997... in June 2005, the European Commission tried to get all the bans scrapped but had a stinging rebuff from EU environment ministers, who rejected proposals for the five -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg -- to lift their bans.
EU to Vote on GMO Rapeseed, Hungarian Biotech Ban
by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
BELGIUM: September 15 2006
BRUSSELS - EU governments face two key decisions next week on genetically modified (GMO) foods, against a backdrop of rising concern that unauthorised biotech varieties have found their way into Europe, officials said on Thursday.
The most controversial debate comes on Monday in a committee of EU-25 biotech experts where the main agenda item is a draft order from the European Commission for Hungary to lift its ban on a GMO maize made by US biotech giant Monsanto.
Hungary, one of the EU's biggest grain producers, became the first country in eastern Europe to ban GMO crops or foods when it outlawed the planting of MON 810 maize seeds in January 2005.
The precedent for national GMO bans was first set in 1997. Between that year and 2000, five EU countries banned specific GMOs on their territory, focusing on three maize and two rapeseed types that were approved shortly before the start of the EU's six-year moratorium on new biotech authorisations.
Then, in June 2005, the European Commission tried to get all the bans scrapped but had a stinging rebuff from EU environment ministers, who rejected proposals for the five -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg -- to lift their bans.
Since then, little has changed in the division of EU-25 opinion so the chances of Hungary being ordered to lift its GMO ban are fairly slim, diplomats say.
This would delight green groups, which have long campaigned for EU governments to be able to ban a specific GMO food or crop on national territory if they have doubts about its safety.
Such bans are permitted under EU law provided that they can be scientifically justified. If the Commission disagrees with the justification, however, it can try to get the ban lifted.
"It is outrageous that the European Commission should bully Hungary into dropping its ban of a genetically modified maize," said Helen Holder, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
"This maize is designed to produce a toxin which may well have detrimental effects on the environment," she said.
NEW GMO APPROVAL ON AGENDA
Some countries may choose to be warier than usual about GMO foods next week given the EU's recent findings of unauthorised GMO rice coming from China and the United States, diplomats say.
Last week, France and Sweden detected the presence of an experimental GMO rice originating in the United States, and the same strain -- LL Rice 601 -- was also found within a cargo of US rice being tested in the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
Environment group Greenpeace, which earlier in the month said it had found GMO rice from China in rice stick noodles and vermicelli in products sold in three EU countries, added to the storm by announcing it had also found LL Rice 601 being sold in branches of a German supermarket chain.
At present, no modified rice may be grown or sold in the EU.
The other GMO decision, to be faced by EU agriculture ministers on the same day, relates to a new GMO authorisation.
For many years, EU states have not been able to secure the weighted majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval. This application is for imports of various biotech rapeseed types made by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer.
Bayer's application relates to industrial processing, which includes use in animal feed, for rapeseed types Ms8, Rf3 and hybrids of these two -- all engineered to resist the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium herbicide. It would not be for cultivation.
"I don't think it (authorisation) will happen," one EU diplomat told reporters. "There's not a qualified majority either for or against. If the council (of EU ministers) doesn't achieve a decision, it will go back to the Commission."
If that happened, EU law empowers the Commission to issue a import authorisation for these products for a 10-year period.
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