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Date:

August 22, 2000

Subject:

European Commission to end de facto moratorium on GM

 

European Commission to end de facto moratorium on GM products

Lancet 2000; 356: 320 - 322

by Karen Birchard

The European Commission is moving to end its unofficial 18-month
moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods, indicating that
they believe the time has come to accept that GM foods do not pose a
serious threat to public health. In exchange for expediting
authorisations for GM products, the Commission wants tighter controls
governing the labelling and traceability of GM crops in place
before it lifts the de facto moratorium. The fast-track authorisation
mechanism would be in place as soon as agreement is reached by
European Union (EU) governments and the European Parliament, but before
they legally enter into force in individual states. This
could mean the changes take effect by the end of the year.

The proposals have met with criticism by opponents of GM products.
Greenpeace accused the EU of preparing the fast-tracking to
benefit major multinationals, whereas Irish Green Party Member of the
European Parliament Patricia McKenna that said rushing
through the legislation was an insult to European consumers who have
legitimate concerns about GM products. She said the
Commission was abandoning its cautionary stance of "when in doubt leave it
out".

In addition, the proposals are likely to meet opposition within the
European Parliament and from some member states. French
Minister Dominque Voynet is against GM products--and she will now be a key
player in EU affairs over the next 6 months of the
French EU presidency.

The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, David Byrne,
said the objective was to promote a balanced
approach to biotechnology while assuring the "highest protection of public
health, and of the environment, including the protection of
biodiversity". He said there was no scientific evidence indicating that GM
foodstuffs endangered health: "There are no guarantees in
life. Right around the world, the scientific evidence is that there is no
problem with GMOs over and above any other food." But he
added there was also a need for people to be able to make an informed
choice with regard to GMO products. "Our approval system
is strictly science based. Consumers should be assured and informed that
we are paying attention to all questions they have raised", he
said.

The Commission has made the move to lift the moratorium because it fears
that biotech companies could win a legal challenge against
the ban and then it would be forced to approve products under inadequate
existing regulations. The Commission is also concerned
that the EU will lose to the USA if product development is stifled in
Europe.

Since 1992, some 18 GM products including crops, vaccines, and flowers,
have been approved for commercial use in the EU. There
are 14 applications pending under the old legislation, but none has been
authorised since 1998.