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GM crops: EU moratorium faces vote next Monday
Agence France Presse, Dec 2, 2003
Members of the European Union on Monday will cast their votes on the future of a de-facto moratorium on importing genetically-modified (GM) crops, an EU official said Tuesday.
The EU's executive Commission has proposed allowing the import of a form of GM sweetcorn, Bt-11, made by Swiss firm Syngenta, Beate Gminder, spokesman for European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said.

The corn type, which is insect- and herbicide-resistant, is sold in the United States as tinned sweetcorn or popcorn.

If the standing committee for the food chain, which gathers scientific representatives from the 15 member states, gives its approval, a de-facto ban on importing GM food that has prevailed since 1999 will effectively be overturned.
At least 62 out of the 87 votes on the panel, under the EU's system of qualified-majority voting which shares out votes according to the size of national populations, are needed to give Bt-11 authorisation.

If there is a majority "yes" vote, authorisation will be automatic, Gminder said, speaking to journalists in Paris and Madrid in a teleconference from Brussels.

If there is a majority "no" vote, the question will be handed to the Council of Ministers, the top political body in the EU.

Ministers will be able to vote for, against or for no action, she said.

A majority of ministers in favour of no action means the authorisation request will be handed back to the European Commission, which would issue its final decision within three months.

"I cannot rule out that this final stage is what will happen," Gminder said.

GM foods are one of the hottest environmental issues in Europe, where powerful green groups have been lobbying hard for the EU to maintain its bar on the imports.

The ban has raised the hackles of the United States, which in May filed suit at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), accusing the EU of protectionism.

The last time the experts' panel met to discuss Bt-11 was on November 11, but members chose not to cast a vote.

The moratorium, while not formally decreed as such, took effect after Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg individually banned GM imports unless these foods were clearly labelled as such and their source could be traced.

The EU passed laws in July to address these demands, thus paving the way for lifting the bar, although the restrictions still fall short of what green groups want.

"We have the toughest regulatory framework (for GM organisms) in the world," said Gminder.

The United States, the biggest defender of GM technology, says the crops are safe for human consumption and the environment.

So far, scientific evidence has not turned about anything significant that says otherwise. But many experts say not enough time has passed for this to be known for sure.
MGR Archive 4.12.2003
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