EU May Order Austria to Lift Ban on GMO Maize Types (6/9/2006)

EU May Order Austria to Lift Ban on GMO Maize Types
REUTERS: September 1, 2006

BRUSSELS - Austria may soon face an order to lift its bans on two genetically modified (GMO) types of maize now that its presidency of the 25-country European Union has run its course, diplomats and officials said on Thursday.

Between 1997 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.

In June 2005, the European Commission tried to get all the bans scrapped but got a stinging rebuff from EU environment ministers, which rejected proposals for the five -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg -- to lift their bans.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also attacked these "national safeguards", as they are called in Brussels jargon, in a landmark case brought against the EU by Argentina, Canada and the United States for breaking international trade rules.

Austria, which passed the rotating six-month EU presidency to Finland at the end of June 2006, is the only country in the bloc whose bans relate to GMO products still actively marketed.

In the other cases, the companies manufacturing the particular GMO products that were the subject of the original bans have withdawn them from the market.


Politically, with Austria no longer the EU president, the Commission -- the bloc's executive arm -- is free to try again to get the bans lifted, hoping to demonstrate to the complainants in the WTO case that it is taking action on GMOs.

"The European Commission is preparing a decision which will then go to Council (of EU ministers)," one EU official told Reuters. "It wouldn't have been good to discuss this during the Austrian presidency."

Austria, where opinion is strongly opposed to biotech foods and there is a strong movement to set up GMO-free zones, consistently votes against applications to authorise new GMOs on EU territory. Finland, on the other hand, votes in favour.

Austria has banned two GMO maize varieties: one in 1997 and the other in 1999. The first was against MON 810 maize made by US biotech giant Monsanto and the second against T25 maize made by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer.

First though, the draft Commission order will be discussed by EU-25 ambassadors at a meeting on Sept. 8. If they agree, or there is enough of a majority in favour, the matter will be put to a vote at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Sept. 18.

The ministers may also face another decision on GMOs on the same day, since the Commission is keen to authorise imports of various biotech rapeseed types, also manufactured by 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.


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