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Swiss agree to 5-year GMO farming ban

(Friday, Dec. 2, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. EU eyes WTO case to drive policy forward on GMOs
2. Swiss agree to 5-year GMO farming ban
3. Austria to launch EU-wide GMO debate after Swiss referendum
4. Centre [ie central government] admits failure of Bt cotton in 2 states (India)
5. GM crop failure a warning, says US adviser

1. EU eyes WTO case to drive policy forward on GMOs

by Jeremy Smith
BELGIUM: December 2, 2005

BRUSSELS - Senior EU policymakers are unclear where they stand on genetically modified (GMO) foods even after years of debate and are looking to a world trade ruling that may dictate where to move next, diplomats say. )

While the European Union restarted approvals of GMO products in 2004 after a break of almost six years, the end of the bloc's unofficial biotech ban did not come with the blessing of all its 25 governments -- which repeatedly fail to agree on GMO policy. )

Since 1998, EU member states have not found enough of a voting majority to agree any new GMO approvals. And since the moratorium ended, the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, has rubberstamped five new authorisations on their behalf. )

The limbo is reflected at the Commission itself, which says it is following EU law by issuing new approvals -- but where nobody in the top echelons seems to be driving policy forward. )

The "leadership vacuum" on GMOs shows few signs of being filled until the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on a suit filed against the EU by Argentina, Canada and the United States. )

Fearing a new trade war, the Commission is keen to show the three complainants that Europe is ready to push GMO applications through the EU system, diplomats say. The WTO is due to issue its ruling, already delayed several times, in early January. )

"The WTO outcome will clarify things and inject some reality into the GMO debate, which at the moment is dominated by the idea that the EU can do whatever it likes," one said. "The ruling is the only thing that can bring any kind of political movement." )

Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness towards GMO products, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods", with opposition polled at slightly over 70 percent: a stark constrast with the United States, where they are far more widely accepted. )


Six European Commissioners are pivotal for the direction of GMO policy in Brussels, and represent the environment, trade, agriculture, research, industry and food safety portfolios. )

Probably the most pro-biotech is Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who said in a speech in September: "the Commission, public authorities, academia and industry together, should try to present the usefulness of GMOs to the public".)

On green biotech, "public attitudes as well as member states' positions hamper the development in this area," he said. )

Verheugen may get some backing to push for a firmer line on accelerating GMO approvals from Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson if the WTO attacks EU biotech policy, officials say. )

But the others seem to be sitting more on the fence. Food Safety Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, for example, would like to see an end to the deadlock in GMO votes, where EU states debate whether to authorise a particular product. )

Not completely convinced about the benefits of GMOs, Kyprianou does not want EU farming to be dominated by biotech to the same extent as in the United States, insiders say. )

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, one of the more GMO-wary commissioners, has refrained from putting "live" GMOs for cultivation up for debate and looks in no hurry to do so. )

Dimas will participate in a GMO policy debate with EU environment ministers on Friday but little concrete is expected to come of it until after the WTO makes its ruling. )

And for Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, the main issue to be resolved is coexistence: EU jargon for how farmers should separate traditional, organic and biotech crops. )

Fischer Boel has often said she may consider a legal framework, maybe in 2006, for how EU governments should regulate coexistence on national territories, instead of the current non-binding guidelines. Now, her rhetoric seems to have faded. )

"There seems to be a lack of urgency among some of the Commissioners to address some of the problems," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at lobby group Friends of the Earth Europe. )

"They (Commission) ... know they're not going to get support from the majority of member states so they're just playing a long game now," he said. )

Apart from the WTO case, another factor that may force the EU to take a firmer stance on biotechnology - either for or against - will be the Commission's reviews of some of the EU's plethora of GMO laws, due sometime next year. )

"The Commission will be under quite a lot of pressure to publish its review of the existing regulatory regime by the summer," the diplomat said. )

"The pressure is building all the time for a serious debate and there's a limit as to how long they (Commission) can resist the pressure," he said. "There's a serious debate on GMOs coming and that should kick off sometime in the middle of next year." )

2. Swiss agree to 5-year GMO farming ban

Reuters, Sun Nov 27, 2005

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland voted in favor of a five-year ban on the use of genetically modified plants and animals in farming on Sunday, putting in place some of the toughest measures in Europe. )

Results of the referendum, compiled by Swiss television SF DRS, showed that 55 percent of voters had accepted the proposal to place a five-year moratorium on GMO crops and the import of genetically modified animals. )

A majority of Switzerland's 26 cantons had also accepted the ban, SF DRS said. )

Officials are expected to confirm the national result later on Sunday. Final results take months to be published. )

The measures will force the Swiss government to put in place some of the toughest legislations on GMOs in Europe. )

In the 25-nation European Union that surrounds Switzerland, restrictions apply to specific crops only and are temporary in nature, rather than the blanket ban proposed by Swiss ecologists and consumer groups. )

The proposal is supported by Swiss farmers, many of whom are considering moving into the booming organic farming business in response to moves to cut traditional agricultural subsidies. )

Under the country's legislative system, the Swiss electorate is regularly asked to vote on major decisions. )

However, while the vote has a symbolic meaning, a ban will mean very little change from current practice, said those who opposed the motion. [because it was already so difficult to grow GMOs] )

3. Austria to launch EU-wide GMO debate after Swiss referendum

By Lucia Kubosova
EUobserver.com, 29 November 2005

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Austria is planning to hold a pan-European debate about genetically-modified (GM) farming, following strong Swiss support for a five-year ban on gene technology in a referendum on Sunday (27 November). )

Vienna will take over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in January and aims to host a conference about GM crops on 4-5 April, the country's agriculture minister Josef Proell has announced. )

Austria is one of the staunchest opponents of GM technology in the EU and is sticking to its own ban on modified plants within its territory. )

Along with Italy, Austrian authorities indicated they view the Swiss vote as strong proof of the European public's opposition to GM farming. )

Although Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, the result of the referendum will "make people think," Italian agriculture minister Gianni Alemanno commented. )

Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for introduction of the strictest restrictions yet in Europe. )

Over 55 percent of voters backed the moratorium, with a majority supporting the move in all 26 of the country's regions or "cantons." )

The decision forces the Swiss government to impose a full moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops and the import of animals whose genes have been modified in the laboratory, despite officials' pro-GM feeling. )

But the new law will not forbid import of genetically modified food or ban research into GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). )

EU battle)

Swiss campaigners say they co-operated with groups from the EU and expect the Swiss result to generate strong popular backing for similar moves across the EU. )

But the biotechnology sector fears that a Europe-wide anti-GMO trend could stifle research. )

The European Commission declined to comment on the result of the Swiss vote on Monday, but confirmed it would study its implications for future trade relations with the Alpine federation. )

The EU executive last year lifted a six-year moratorium on the sale of GM foods. )

Some of the bloc's member states, like Spain, the UK and the Netherlands argue that Europe has sufficient safeguards in place and should move ahead on GM farming. )

But several other countries insist new tests must be carried out before allowing widespread farming of GM crops. )

Spain is currently the only EU country with large areas given over to GM crops. )

4. Centre [ie central government] admits failure of Bt cotton in 2 States

Gargi Parsai
The Hindu, Nov 27 2005


The Government on Friday conceded the failure of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. )

Subsequently, permission for sale of the Monsanto-Mahyco varieties of MECH seeds had not been renewed for Andhra Pradesh this kharif. )

The Centre has asked the cotton-growing State Governments to take action against producers, suppliers and vendors of spurious Bt cotton seeds that have failed to germinate or are non-Bt cotton seeds being sold in the name of transgenic seeds at exorbitant prices. )

It has also asked States to monitor the performance of Bt cotton by constituting State level and district level coordination committees.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told the Rajya Sabha that the Andhra Pradesh Government had reported large-scale complaints against Bt cotton seeds that had failed in Warangal district and other parts of the State during kharif 2004 causing losses to farmers. )

The State Government had sought compensation amounting to Rs. 3.84 crores from Monsanto-Mahyco. The company had appealed before the State-level Memorandum of Understanding Committee and the High Court. )

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has not renewed permission for cultivation of three Mahyco cotton hybrids, including Bt MECH-12, Bt MECH-162, Bt MECH-184 for Andhra Pradesh. )

The State Government has imposed a ban on sale of Bt cotton hybrids of the company during kharif 2005. In Rajasthan too some Bt cotton had performed poorly due to inadequate rain, a long dry spell and high temperature during the crop's growth period, the Minister said. )

The Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur has been notified as referral laboratory for detecting the presence or absence of Bt gene in the cotton seeds.

The Department of Seed Certification in Tamil Nadu has also established a laboratory for similar purpose in Coimbatore. )

The State Governments have been advised to constitute special flying squads to prevent sale of illegal Bt.cotton seeds and undertake massive campaigns to educate farmers on the subject. )

5. GM crop failure a warning, says US adviser

Last Update: Wednesday, November 30, 2005. 1:15pm (AEDT)

A former agricultural adviser to US presidents says the failure of a genetically modified field pea trial should act as a warning for future GM crop testing.

The 10-year CSIRO trial was abandoned when tests found the peas were making mice seriously ill.

Dr Charles Benbrook, who advised presidents Carter, Bush senior, Reagan and Clinton says the field pea trial failure shows current GM crop testing is grossly inadequate.

"I don't believe that this new study proves that all genetically engineered food is posing a great threat to people but it certainly confirms the need to go back and look at the major food crops," he said.

He has called for changes to the Gene Technology Act, which is currently under review, to tighten GM crop regulation and increase scientific scrutiny of potential commercial varieties.

But the Grains Council's David Ginns says the failed field pea trial was an isolated case, and the fact health concerns were discovered shows current monitoring is adequate.

"It picked up a problem early and the project was terminated on the basis that there were concerns raised in the trial."