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Mandelson - EU risks WTO cases over GM food (15/6/2007)

EXTRACT: "Europe's risk-assessment procedure is overlooking the threats and not assessing risks at all, just rubberstamping company dossiers.'' - Greenpeace

NOTE: Peter Mandelson was Blair's closest political supporter but was appointed an EU Commissioner by Blair after twice being forced to resign as a UK minister following impropriety.

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EU Risks WTO Cases Over Biotech Food, Mandelson Says (Update2)
By Jonathan Stearns Bloomberg, June 14 2007
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=a_Wlyg1.BX_Q&refer=europe

The European Union must accept more genetically modified foods to avoid renewed complaints about market barriers at the World Trade Organization, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said.

Any EU delay over the approval of gene-modified crops made by companies such as Monsanto Co. and declared safe by scientists risks prompting legal challenges from farm exporters such as the U.S., Canada and Argentina, Mandelson said. In a case brought by these three countries, the WTO ruled last year that a 1998-2004 EU ban on new gene-altered foods was illegal.

The bloc ended the six-year moratorium after tightening labeling rules and creating a food agency to screen biotech applications. Since then, the EU has approved the import of some gene-modified products for food and feed use via a slow-track procedure and has yet to endorse any requests for cultivation.

"If we fail to implement our own rules, or implement them inconsistently, we can -- and probably will -- be challenged,'' Mandelson said in a speech today in Brussels. He also said the EU may undermine European industries such as livestock by falling behind in endorsing products in the $6 billion global biotech crop market.

The European Commission, the 27-nation EU's regulatory arm, faces resistance to gene-modified foods from member states including Austria and Greece. Surveys show opposition to such foods by more than half of European consumers, who worry about risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of ``superweeds'' impervious to herbicides.

Stalemate

Biotech foods range from corn to oilseeds whose genetic material has been altered to add beneficial traits such as resistance to weed-killing chemicals. The EU biotech-food approvals since 2004 resulted from the commission acting on its own after member states failed to muster a sufficient majority for or against, a stalemate that drags decisions out for months and puts the commission in the political crossfire.

The delays followed EU scientific opinions that the products are safe, prompting Mandelson to warn about political interference in the process.

"If politicians and risk managers undermine their own system,'' he said, "we devalue objective science as our most important benchmark -- and that is a dangerous step to take.''

Biotech Spud

The commission aims for the EU to approve a request to plant a gene-modified potato developed by BASF AG in the coming months, Barbara Helfferich, a commission environment spokeswoman, said today by telephone. The approval would be the first EU authorization of a biotech product for cultivation in about eight years.

The Amflora potato, altered to increase its starch content, failed to win enough backing from member-state regulators in December, is going to EU ministers for a verdict and would go back to the commission for a decision should the ministers be split.

Environmental groups including Greenpeace say EU evaluators of biotech foods need to be more stringent and independent.

"Europe's risk-assessment procedure is overlooking the threats and not assessing risks at all, just rubberstamping company dossiers,'' Greenpeace, which opposes gene-modified products, said in a statement today in Brussels.

Such concerns helped prompt the commission last year to demand that biotech food makers provide more safety information and the EU's food agency work more closely with national scientific bodies. Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas pushed through the initiative, saying it would help win broader support in the EU for gene-modified food approvals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at jstearns2@bloomberg.net

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