BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Some European Union countries are determined to prevent a choice concerning the use of GM crops, the European biotech industry alleged March 13, in an unusually aggressive public denunciation of national spoiling tactics.

EuropaBio, the industry’s principal lobby organization in Brussels, issued a high-profile challenge to European governments to live up to their own promises on coexistence.

The controversy arose from a March 10 report from senior EU officials on national measures to ensure co-existence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming, which concluded that the development of EU-wide legislation "does not appear justified at this time." EuropaBio said, "What is clear from the report is that while some member states have set in place reasonable science-based rules to achieve a fair coexistence regime, others have clearly developed disabling rules that are aimed at denying choice to farmers and consumers."

EuropaBio highlighted what it calls the "discriminatory and disproportionate measures" identified in the report. It insisted that member states should respect EU guidelines on coexistence agreed to in July 2003. "These guidelines provide a rational basis to set in place procedures to meet the statutory labeling requirements," said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio. He pointed to findings from the study from the EU’s own joint research center that coexistence can function in the EU and that the EU’s labeling standards can be achieved reasonably.

The report is the prelude to an EU conference on the issue to be held in Vienna April 5, under the current Austrian presidency of the EU. Austria’s government is one of the most skeptical and resistant to the marketing of GMOs in Europe.

"Those opposed to GMOs should stop using coexistence as a means to deny freedom of choice to Europe’s farmers and consumers. The record of successful coexistence between GM and non-GM in Spain since 1998 is proof that coexistence between different farming methods works," Barber concluded.

Meanwhile, EU environment ministers held a policy debate on GMOs at a council meeting March 9 in Brussels, focusing on risk management and authorization procedures. The formal conclusions, drafted by Austria, underlined the virtues of caution, speaking of greater transparency in authorization procedures, "more complete and adequate information for consumers," and "the need for coordination between all bodies concerned." Ministers put their names to the view that "safety assessment of GMOs should take greater account of possible long-term consequences of the use of those products and scientific research should be intensified in this context."

Before the report was published, EuropaBio already had stated that the EU authorities should not be distracted "by individual member states that are diametrically opposed to biotech crops because of what can only logically be seen as short-term political decision making." But at the same time, Friends of the Earth Europe had criticized the report because of what it depicted as a wait-and-see policy that "ignores the rights of European consumers and farmers who do not want to experiment with genetically modified foods."

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