EU chides Cyprus for separating GMO foods on supermarket shelves

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Cyprus earned a stinging rebuff from European Union authorities yesterday for its bid to force supermarkets to display genetically modified (GMO) food on separate shelves from traditional and organic produce. Members of the Cypriot Parliament floated the idea last year and quickly incurred the wrath of the United States, the world’s leading GMO grower and exporter, which warned the assembly that its proposed law could harm ties between the two countries. The European Commission, which administers EU law on behalf of the bloc’s 25 member countries, has now ruled that Cyprus’s draft law is incompatible with EU legislation. «The decision was taken on the grounds that the legal base upon which the Cypriot authorities submitted the notification is subject to certain conditions which do not apply in the case of this draft legislation,» the Commission said in a statement. The main problem, officials say, is technical. When it first notified Brussels of its intentions, in September 2005, Cyprus used provisions in an EU law that allow for national exemptions from EU rules for reasons of environmental or public health. But the decision did not concern the substance of the Cypriot notification, it said. Cyprus may now resubmit its GMO bill using a different legal basis, scrap the law or press ahead regardless and await legal action from Brussels, officials say. That last course of action would almost certainly raise the stakes with Washington, which has already hinted at possible action against Cyprus at the World Trade Organization (WTO). In its letter sent to the Cypriot Parliament last July, the United States said the Cypriot draft law was «tantamount to a non-tariff barrier to trade in biotech goods and as such is in violation of (Cyprus’s) obligations as a member of the WTO.» The EU has tough rules for labeling foods that contain GMOs. If conventional food contains more than 0.9 percent of authorized GMOs, it must be labeled so bloc-wide.