NEWS

Ministers resist EU go-ahead to biotech crops

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union ministers yesterday resisted efforts from their own Commission to lift bans on a range of biotech crops, invoking safety clauses to keep the bans in place. Luxembourg Environment Minister Lucien Lux, who chaired the meeting in Luxembourg, said he was «very satisfied» that EU governments rejected European Commission demands. The Commission had called on Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece to end their national bans, which affect three types of corn and two varieties of oilseed. Failure to lift the bans was sure to upset the United States, which launched a World Trade Organization complaint against the EU’s ban on biotech imports in 2003. A WTO panel is to release a preliminary ruling in August in the case. The vote against the lifting of the ban means the five EU governments can maintain their restrictions on corn varieties T25 and MON810, which are banned in Austria; maize Bt176, outlawed in Austria, Germany and Luxembourg; oilseed MS1xRF1, banned in France; and oilseed Topas 19/2, which is banned in France and Greece. «While this does not call into question the safety and comprehensiveness of our regulatory framework, the Commission will study this decision carefully,» EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters. The EU ended a six-year moratorium on accepting applications for new genetically modified foods in May 2004, but several EU nations remain reluctant to authorize biotech crops because of public health and environmental concerns. The Commission, however, did win a small victory when environment ministers failed to get the needed qualified majority to stop the EU head office from approving another genetically modified corn product, MON 863, made by US biotech giant Monsanto Co, which is meant to resist rootworms. That product was ruled safe by the European Food Safety Agency last year. Environmental groups welcomed the invoking of the safety clause by the five EU governments. «The Commission now faces a test of credibility,» said Adrian Bebb, from Friends of the Earth Europe. «Will it listen to national governments and the public, or carry on with its unpopular policy of pushing GM foods and crops into Europe?»