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EU Commission drops decision on GMO seed labels

(Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Wednesday withdrew its controversial proposal setting purity levels for labelling of seed containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

However, the EU's executive decision-making body continued to discuss plans to authorise the first genetically modified (GMO) seeds for commercial use.

An official said the Commission had not yet made a decision on that issue, part of a raft of legislation to end Europe's near total ban on the cultivation of new types of GMOs.

The draft proposal on seed purity has been a year in gestation within the Commission due to its controversial nature.

It was withdrawn because it was felt "it was not mature yet", an EU official said, declining to reveal further details.

The latest version of the proposal would force seed makers to label batches of conventional or standard maize and rapeseed containing more than 0.3 percent of GMOs as genetically modified.

Batches of conventional seed with GMO material below this level would not have to be labelled.

Green groups feel this threshold is too high and should be set at 0.1 percent, the lowest technically feasible level, to protect the environment and safeguard human health.

The seed purity proposal is one of the final legislative pieces in the EU's efforts to end its five-year ban on GMOs.

While the use of new types of GMOs in food has been permitted, no cultivation of new GMO crops has taken place, putting the EU way behind some other big crop producers, particularly the United States, in the use of GMO seed.

Green groups have campaigned against any loosening of the EU's moratorium on genetically modified products, saying biotechnology is dangerous.

They want GMO-free zones to be created in Europe where no biotech crops would be planted.

Previous story on this issue...

EU may allow first GMO seeds
Mon 6 September, 2004 08:27
By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is likely to authorise the first genetically modified (GMO) seeds for commercial use across EU territory this week, in the face of widespread consumer resistance to biotech crops.

No biotech seeds have so far been approved at EU level, but some national authorisations exist in countries such as France and Spain. This means that only farmers in those countries can buy and then plant the approved seeds.

However, under an established legal procedure, once an EU state gives the green light for a seed to be sold on its territory -- and assuming all EU legislation is complied with -- the Commission is obliged eventually to extend that authorisation onto an EU-wide basis.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the EU executive will discuss entering 17 different strains of Monsanto's 810 maize into what is called the Common Catalogue -- the EU's overall seed directory that includes all national seed catalogues.

The parent maize seed, engineered to resist certain insects, won EU approval for cultivation just before the bloc began its ban on new GMO approvals in 1998 that lasted nearly six years. At present, very few "live" GMO crops may be grown in the EU.

"Inscription in the common catalogue is...purely a marketing issue," read a note to be delivered by EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne at Wednesday's meeting.

"Failure to undertake the inscription now would mean the 2005 growing season could be lost and leave the Commission vulnerable to a Court challenge for failure to act," said Byrne's speaking note, obtained by Reuters.


Wednesday looks certain to be a busy GMO day for the 25-strong group of EU commissioners, several of whom are lukewarm, at best, on pressing ahead with more GMO approvals.

Also likely to be on their agenda is a draft law on how much GMO material may be tolerated without labelling in batches of conventional seed -- a highly controversial law that has bounced between the Commission's various units for more than a year.

The law's latest version calls for a GMO content threshold of 0.3 percent for maize and rapeseed, the only two biotech crops so far authorised. Batches of conventional seed with GMO material below those levels would not have to be labelled.

Despite the high likelihood of the 17 Monsanto seeds winning European approval, green groups say allowing the widespread use of GMO seeds is irresponsible while most countries have no proper rules on how farmers should separate organic, conventional and GMO crops to minimise cross-contamination.

So far, the Commission has insisted that EU states should be responsible for how their farmers segregate the three farming types -- an issue known in EU jargon as coexistence.

"These proposals by the European Commission are a recipe for disaster," said Geert Ritsema, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth, referring to the draft seeds law and Commission proposal to approve the Monsanto seeds.

"Allowing widespread growing of GM crops before countries have had the chance to put in measures to protect consumers and the environment is a reckless move that could lead to the widespread contamination of Europe's food, farming and environment," he said in a statement.

Polls have shown more than 70 percent of European consumers oppose biotech foods because of health and environment worries.

Only a handful of EU governments have drafted coexistence laws providing for financial liability in cases of crop contamination. Denmark recently put a national law in place, while Germany's parliament will debate a draft law this month.