Europe could see a series of new biotech foods quietly approved with no influence from EU governments if they cannot escape from years of deadlock over genetically modified (GMO) foods, green groups have warned.
The European Commission will hold its first debate on GMO policy on Tuesday, the first such discussion of the issue
since January 2004. It appears keen to push a backlog of GMO requests through the EU’s complex authorisation process.
For the environmental lobby, this would be riding roughshod over public opinion since most European consumers
oppose GMOs — calling them “Frankenstein foods”.
“The Commission is not giving a lot of space to member states in the process. They are overruling an overwhelming
majority of member states and the public, who say ‘We don’t want them’,” said Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth
Apart from recommending that new GMOs should continue to be submitted for EU approval, the Commission is also
expected to ask EU governments to “participate effectively in the process with a view to reaching clear positions”, a draft
“The Commission simply cannot pass the hot potato to member states and then blame them for failing to agree,” said
Eric Gall, GMO campaigner at environmental lobby group Greenpeace.
“They simply advocate going along as they used to, throwing the ball back to the member states. We don’t think this is a
responsible attitude and they will end up again as they were in 1998 before the moratorium,” he told a news conference.
The EU’s de facto moratorium on new GMOs came about in late 1998 when a handful of governments said they would
refuse to endorse new approvals until there were tougher laws on GMO traceability and labelling, among other areas.
The moratorium, which inspired an international trade suit against the EU from Argentina, Canada and the United
States, was lifted by a legal default procedure in May 2004. But EU member states have not themselves approved any
new GMO since 1998.
More and more countries now abstain in Europe’s GMO votes, reducing the chances of agreement. A small group
always votes in favour, while a counter-group always votes against.
The result is that no decision is taken, and it falls to the Commission to approve the new GMO, months later, under a
complex process that allows the EU executive to step in if member states cannot reach a decision themselves.
If it fell to the Commission to approve new GMOs, Europe might find itself faced with a new moratorium, other greens