BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Forty percent of Europeans say they lack information on the use of genetically modified organisms in farming, according to a Eurobarometer survey on "The attitudes of European citizens toward the environment," published April 29.

GMOs rank as the second least-understood environmental topic for Europeans, just behind the impact on health due to everyday chemicals. Although most Europeans polled feel uninformed about GMOs, they do not rate them highly among their major environmental concerns. Only in Greece and Austria are concerns about GMOs high - and those are the member states that the survey also identified as satisfying few of the public's demands for information on the topic.

The concerns over a lack information on GMOs run highest in Finland, where 66 percent of respondents - 20 percent above the EU average - said they feel uninformed. In Slovenia, the figure is 56 percent, in Greece and Slovakia it is 54 percent, in Germany it is 49 percent, and in Austria it is 44 percent. The survey said people feel best informed in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Latvia. Overall, only 24 percent of the interviewees admitted to a high level of concern on GMOs, putting the subject 10th in the ranking of environmental concerns, slightly behind agricultural pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and far behind water pollution, man-made disasters, climate change and air pollution.

EU Pushes States Into Line On Biotech

Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece likely are to receive a European Union demand before the summer to lift their ban on approved GMOs. The move promises - again - an end to the de facto embargo that the countries have imposed for more than five years.

EU officials on April 26 submitted the draft of a formal complaint to the Council of EU Ministers, which requires the member states to comply with the EU's legislation on GMOs. If the council - on which the countries each have a seat - fails to adopt the proposal within the next three months, EU officials will be able to impose the requirement on the five member states, which then will have to repeal their national bans within 20 days.

The products at issue are GM maize T25 and MON810, which are banned in Austria; GM maize Bt176, banned in Austria, Germany and Luxembourg; oilseed rape MS1xRF1, banned in France; and oilseed rape Topas 19/2, banned in France and Greece. Each country has invoked the "safeguard clause" under EU legislation to provisionally keep the products off their market, despite the fact that they have been approved for import and been declared safe by the European Food Safety Authority.

An attempt to overturn the ban in November failed to win majority support in one of the EU's technical committees of experts from the member states. The new move puts the onus back on the member states to justify their position, or to change it. It springs from the determination of EU officials to overcome the reticence of a handful of member states, expressed in a March 22 policy document, which insisted on flushing out recalcitrant countries.

Meanwhile, on April 27 EU officials formally urged the member states to authorize the genetically modified maize MON863 for import and use as animal feed - with a three-month deadline for accepting or rejecting the decision. If the decision also is rejected, EU officials have made it clear they will use the EU's legislative machinery to push that decision through, too.

But to remedy the confusion brought into the EU market by the recent accidental release by Syngenta AG of unauthorized Bt10 maize, the EU's Health and Consumer Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said at the April 26 council of agriculture ministers from the EU member states that the U.S. "should look into establishing a system similar to that of the EU" on the labeling and traceability of GMOs. Kyprianou told ministers that during his trip to the U.S. in late April the U.S. had "accepted, but did not welcome" the EU's recent decision to introduce a certification process to protect against Bt10 imports.