EU reinforces resistance to GMOs - Financial Times (22/2/2007)


EXTRACTS: Only the UK, Netherlands, Finland and Sweden among the 27 members voted that Budapest should allow in bio-engineered maize...

Last year ministers permitted Austria to maintain a ban on the same product, MON810, which contains a toxin to kill pests and was created by Monsanto...


Friends of the Earth Europe, 20 Feb 2007

Brussels - Today, Environment Ministers from EU Member States voted to allow Hungary to uphold its national ban of Monsanto.s genetically modified maize [1].

Helen Holder, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said,

"EU countries have defended Hungary's right to protect its environment and its citizens' health by banning a genetically modified crop. Bans such as Hungary’s are allowed under EU law and according to the World Trade Organisation rules and EU countries were quite right to refuse to be bullied by the European Commission into annulling the ban."

Environment Ministers also failed to give the green light for the marketing of a genetically modified flower. Since the Ministers failed to reach a clear agreement amongst themselves, the final decision, under EU rules, will now revert back to the European Commission.


[1] Genetically modified maize, MON810, produced by Monsanto. Prohibited by Hungary under the Safeguard Clause of Directive 2001/18


Financial Times, 21 February 2007

Resistance to genetically modified crops in Europe was underlined yesterday when EU governments rejected an attempt to force Hungary to lift a ban on them.

Only the UK, Netherlands, Finland and Sweden among the 27 members voted that Budapest should allow in bio-engineered maize, although it has been approved as safe by food safety authorities.

Last year ministers permitted Austria to maintain a ban on the same product, MON810, which contains a toxin to kill pests and was created by Monsanto, the US group.

The entry of GM-friendly Bulgaria and Romania into the EU was thought to have tipped the balance but countries such as Romania and Spain, although they have planted tens of thousands of hectares of GM crops, voted against on grounds of sovereignty.

"It is a bad day for farmers and a bad day for science," said Simon Barber, of Europabio, which represents the biotech industry. "Ministers are refusing to implement the law they drew up."

Under a 2001 directive, the European Food Safety Agency has the responsibility to assess and approve applications to import or cultivate GM crops. The European Commission then asks national governments to approve them.

The decision will infuriate the US, which with Canada and Argentina won a case against the EU at the World Trade Organisation.

The EU claims that it has ended the moratorium that was deemed illegal by Geneva, but in practice no new crops have been approved for cultivation since. Only a handful can be grown and not many more imported for animal feed and processing, amid continuing suspicion among the public.

Green groups welcomed the vote. "Ministers took a bold decision today in defence of the environment and in line with European public opinion," said Marco Contiero of Greenpeace.

A European Commission spokeswoman said it would now examine its options. It could launch legal action or drop the effort to end Hungary and Austria's bans altogether.

"We have to acknowledge a political dimension," she said. "If people will not buy GMOs because of even the smallest doubt we have to make sure we eliminate that doubt."


Reuters, 20 February 2007

BRUSSELS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - EU environment ministers slapped down on Tuesday an attempt to order Hungary to lift its ban on a genetically modified (GMO) maize type, delivering a third stinging rebuff to the European Commission.

There was a "qualified majority" of member states -- the amount needed under the EU's complex weighted voting system -- against the proposal, a Commission spokeswoman said.

Hungary, one of the EU-27'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, marketed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, in January 2005.

The decision follows a similar rejection by the ministers in December of a draft order, authored by the EU's executive Commission, for Austria to drop its bans on two separate GMO maize types. One of them was also MON 810.

Between 1997 and 2000, five EU countries banned specific GMOs on their territory, focusing on three maize and two rapeseed types approved shortly before the start of the EU's six-year moratorium on new biotech authorisations.

In June 2005, the Commission tried to get the bans scrapped. EU environment ministers rejected the proposals then as well.

In September, EU biotech experts failed to agree on the Commission’s draft order concerning Hungary. Under EU law, if that happens, the matter is escalated to ministerial level.

Although at the time more EU countries voted in favour of the order to lift the national ban -- 14 countries, with five against and six abstentions -- that was not enough under the EU's weighted voting system for a consensus agreement. The European Union has long been split on GMO policy, and its member states consistently clash over whether to approve new varieties for import but without reaching a conclusion.

In Europe, consumers are well known for their scepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed "Frankenstein foods". But the international biotech industry says its products are safe and no different to conventional foods.


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