Greece among six EU members pressured to relax GMO ban

BRUSSELS – Six EU governments face pressure to scrap national bans on certain gene-spliced foods that had been approved for growing and processing before the bloc began its 1998-2004 biotech ban, officials said yesterday. Next month EU environment experts will discuss bans on five different genetically modified (GMO) foods – two types of rape seed and three of maize – imposed between 1997 and 2001. Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg used a get-out clause in one of the EU’s various laws that regulates the environmental risk of GMO crops. That allows an EU government to restrict, provisionally, the use or sale of a specific GMO product on its territory if there are grounds for concern over a possible risk to human health or the environment. The country must also justify its concern. In every case, EU scientists said the bans were unjustified and the European Commission told the country concerned to lift it. But this never happened. Now, diplomats say, the Commission wants to sort out what it sees as an anomaly from the period of the EU’s biotech ban – a de facto moratorium that effectively blocked any new GMO approvals but ended in May. Part of the rush to lift the bans, they say, is due to a case filed against the EU by the United States, Canada and Argentina at the World Trade Organization. The three GMO producers say the EU’s moratorium flouted world trade norms. «Now that the (new) legislation is in force, in theory everything should be working fine. But the Commission can see that the safeguard clauses are not necessarily the easiest way to defend the WTO case,» one EU diplomat said. «My impression is that they (the Commission) are keen to get them off the agenda or take decisions on them,» he said. Last year the Commission asked the six governments for information to support their requests for the bans to continue. Only Greece and Austria sent in new evidence, which was rejected by the European Food Safety Authority as insufficient to justify banning GMO products already approved for EU use. EU insiders say France has promised to submit data but is unlikely to do so. Germany and Luxembourg have yet to respond. Britain may not play a large role in next month’s debate since German chemicals group Bayer has anyway shelved plans to sell its T25 forage maize in Britain. The maize was the subject of a partial UK restriction imposed in 2001. The experts, to meet November 29, will also discuss whether to authorize imports of a gene maize known as MON 863 and marketed by US biotech giant Monsanto.