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States rip apart EU bid to fix GM crops mess

by Staff Writers
Luxembourg (AFP) Oct 14, 2010
European states accused of "flouting" WTO rules by banning genetically-modified crops on Thursday rejected EU moves to speed new authorisations.

A plan by the European Commission to allow states to decide individually whether to ban the cultivation of crops, albeit staying within World Trade Organization rules governing the movement of GM products, was torn to shreds by leading GM opponents, France, Germany and others.

"Let me be very clear, in France we refuse even to enter into this discussion," said France's Chantal Jouanno during talks between European Union environment ministers in Luxembourg.

She said the plan failed to deliver adequate assessments of the impact of GM agriculture on the environment, on human health, or on other socio-economic needs.

Paris wants strengthened scientific assessments amid accusations that some officials in EU agencies were too close to the GM industry.

Until these demands are met, "it's off-limits," she snapped afterwards.

Europe has got itself into a bind on GM, with two crops currently authorised -- a maize strain for animal feed and a potato for paper-making -- but decisions on another 15 are caught up in deadlock.

Countries and regions have subsequently banned cultivation unilaterally, or declared themselves GM-free, with products containing traces blocked at ports, which the commission says risks breaching WTO guidelines.

On top of that, a petition of more than a million signatures from citizens demanding a moratorium on GM crops further complicates the task.

Irish minister Ciaran Cuffe stuck the knife in during a public debate, saying he was "looking forward" to seeing how the commission would handle the Greenpeace petition.

EU Health Commissioner John Dalli said he will "take delivery" of the signatures, admitting he "can't ignore it."

But he stressed that the mechanics of the new EU citizens initiative procedure have "not yet been decided on by the European parliament."

A facility for more than a million EU citizens to force the bloc to listen to their voice was an innovation under the 2009 EU Lisbon Treaty.

It is the first time the EU has faced this challenge, and with Dalli's proposals also being criticised by Germany on the grounds they would mean the end of EU economic integration, the problems are piling up.

Germany's Norbert Rottgen warned that acceptance of GMs on a state-by-state basis would "mean de facto that we do not have a single market."

Likewise, he said the legal basis on which the commission was trying to face down WTO threats was "highly contentious."

Luxembourg said the idea "will only make sense if amended," Finland complained it "specifies what cannot be used, but not really what can," Spain grumbled that it "doesn't provide guarantees" and Italy dismissed it as "not an appropriate or adequate response."

Experts will deliver a legal verdict on October 21, while Dalli will release reports on environmental, health and socio-economic impacts, meeting "all of the issues France raises by the end of the year."

Only the Netherlands -- a firm backer of GM agricultural innovation -- gave its solid backing.

Even "neutral" Slovakia said it wanted a "common approach," while Britain echoed earlier indications it would follow the majority, given its main policy objectives lie elsewhere.

Having started out accusing capitals of "flouting" rules in a "cacophony of policy," Dalli insisted afterwards that his bid was "still moving."

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