Print This Story

EU Environment Ministers Let Five States Keep GM Crop Bans

LUXEMBURG, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - The environment ministers of five European countries are standing firm on their rejection of genetically modified crops. They have turned down a package of proposals by the European Commission to lift their bans on transgenic varieties of maize and oilseed rape that are authorized across the European Union.

At a European Environment Council meeting Friday, the ministers of Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg won a majority of their counterparts over to their view that several varieties of genetically modified maize, or corn, and oilseed rape, or canola, present risks to human health and the environment.

This is the first time that the Environment Council found a qualified majority against a Commission proposal on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "The Commission has a legal obligation to make sure that the existing regulatory framework governing the release of GMOs is correctly applied by member states. That is why we proposed to lift the current bans or restrictions on certain GMOs in Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxemburg."

Some of these eight national safeguard measures include bans or restrictions on cultivation, while others include bans on import and use in food and feed.

oilseed rape

Farmer checks his field of genetically modified oilseed rape, also known as canola. (Photo courtesy BayerCropScience)
"The fact that the Council rejected all eight proposals raises a host of questions," Dimas said. "What is certain is that today’s vote sends a political signal that member states may want to revisit some aspects of the existing system."

Attempts by the European Commission to overturn the bans follow a dispute over GM foods at the World Trade Organization, where the United States claims they are a barrier to trade.

Now the Commission "will have to carefully consider the legal and scientific bases that underpin any further proposals, as well as the implications for EU internal market and trading partners," Dimas said.

Environmentalists were pleased with the Environment Council vote. Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Emily Diamand said, "Today's vote to allow EU countries to maintain their bans on GM food and crops, is a vote for common sense, and a victory for European consumers, who are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food."

But the environmental group criticized the UK government for again siding with the GM industry, and voting to have the bans overturned. "It is bad enough that Elliot Morley should ignore public opinion on this important issue. But it is outrageous that he should try and stop other countries saying no to GM," said Diamand. "His actions will do nothing to improve the UK's battered reputation on this issue, or help its poor image in Europe."

The proposals to lift the national safeguard measures concern authorized genetically modified organisms from several manufacturers.

In a separate proposal involving the authorization of placing Monsanto's MON863 maize, with resistance to corn rootworm, on the European market for import, processing and feed use, the Council did not find the required qualified majority for or against. This case will now go back to the Commission for a final decision.