|EU Caution Puts Brakes on GM Food Legislation / Poland Eyes Ban on GMO Plantings (6/4/2006)|
EU Caution Puts Brakes on GM Food Legislation
[picture caption: The path towards GM crops in the EU will remain blocked until legislation is in place]
EU leaders Thursday stressed the need for more information and experience before further legislation can be passed on genetically-modified organisms, at the end of a two-day conference on GMOs in Vienna.
"We should have clear, legal, common regulations (on GMOs) in Europe," Austrian Agriculture Minister Josef Proell said at the closing press conference, but added, "It is too early to sketch the legal framework for common legislation."
The conference, entitled "Freedom of Choice," brought together politicians, scientists, as well as farmers and food producers, to discuss the issue of co-existence, referring to the problems involved in growing both GM and non-GM crops in Europe.
"We are still at an early stage of development of co-existence rules, we have only limited experience with cultivation of GM crops in Europe," said Dirk Ahner, the deputy director-general for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission, explaining why an exchange of information was needed.
"To get out the maximum of the limited knowledge we have it is vital that we share information, research and best practice," he said.
Proell added that the conference was only the first step and the exchange of information would continue. Another conference on GMO policy is to be held in Vienna on April 18-19.
"We're still far from the end of the road," he said. "We need to... identify together where the problems lie and how they could possibly be addressed, only then can one really think about legislation," Ahner said.
Politicians at the conference were keen to stress that the issue of co-existence was not about the ethics or safety of GMOs but they agreed European farmers had the right to choose whether or not to produce GM crops.
Risk of contamination without legislation of use
Without specific legislation however, there is a risk non-GM or organic crops could be contaminated and while the EU says that would have no effect on human health or the environment -- GMOs can only be grown after they have been authorized by the union -- they could have economic consequences for farmers of GM-free crops.
Spain is the only EU country to grow GM crops on a commercial scale, although other countries such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Portugal also cultivate them on a smaller scale.
Several regions have declared themselves GM-free and specific co-existence legislation exists in Denmark, Germany, Portugal and six Austrian provinces but regulations differ throughout the European Union.
Poland Eyes Ban on GMO Plantings
WARSAW - Poland's government wants to ban sowing and curb imports of genetically modified (GMO) plants to protect its image as an environmentally-friendly state, Deputy Farm Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski said on Wednesday.
No biotech seeds have been planted in Poland and the biggest food producer among the 10 new states that joined the European Union in 2004 fears potential future sowings of GMO crops could lead to contaminatation of other crops.
The minority ruling government party has long said it wanted to make Poland "GMO-free" and parliamentary deputies have been working on several draft bills on the issue.
"The government's stance is that planting of GMOs should not be allowed. It permits sales of GMO products provided that they are clearly labelled," Ardanowski told Reuters in a brief interview on the sidelines of a GMO seminar. Story by Ewa Krukowska.
"If we allowed GMOs, our image of a country supporting organic agriculture and producing healthy food would be tarnished. And with the still scanty research on co-existence, noone can guarantee we would avoid contamination," he said.
"Coexistence" laws -- or rules for biotech crops from organic and traditional crops -- have become the most controversial area in the biotech debate across the European Union.
Environmental groups in the bloc say no "live" GMOs should be grown in Europe until an EU-wide coexistence law is in place. The biotech industry takes a very different view, saying there are no problems with growing GMO crops next to non-GMO types.
Industry experts say that Poland would face strong objections from Brussels to any attempt to ban GMO plantings, but Ardanowski said Warsaw would try to word law in line with EU rules or even seek changes to the bloc's biotech policy.
Some analysts have said one way to effectively ban GMO plantings would be to push restrictive coexistence regulations through the Polish parliament.
Ardanowski also said Warsaw intended to curb imports of GMO soybean meal, an important compoment of animal feed.
"The tendency is also to curb imports of GMO soybean meal, but we must start looking for an alternative source of protein for animal feed," Ardanowski said.
Market talk that Poland may ban imports of soybean meal has unnerved grain traders and food producers, who fear an increase of animal feed costs.
According to estimates by the Polish Institute for Agricultural Economics, more than 2 million tonnes of soybean meal were brought into the central European country last year.
© 2006 Reuters Limited.