BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union reached agreement Friday on new EU rules governing the transboundary movements of genetically modified organisms. The agreement won backing from the European Parliament two days earlier.

A formal endorsement by EU ministers is expected before the end of June.

The new regulation gives force at the EU level to part of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the United Nations agreement on common rules for transboundary movements of GMOs in order to ensure global-level protection of biodiversity and human health. The new EU rule will establish a common system of notification and information for transboundary movements of GMOs. That complements existing EU rules on imports and trade in GMOs to fulfill requirements the protocol imposes on exporters of GMOs.

Current EU legislation does not contain requirements for exports of GMOs to non-EU countries, so the new rules will provide a common legal framework to regulate such exports. Its principal aim is to help developing countries, or countries with economies in transition, to make informed decisions when importing GMOs.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said, "The agreement confirms the determination of the European Union to fully implement the biosafety protocol as soon as it enters into force. The European Union has been a key player in the international negotiations from the very beginning, and we are now sending a clear signal that we are able to honor our commitments."

Under the new rules, prior consent will be required for import. Exporters will have to await prior written express consent of the authorities in the importing country before proceeding with the first transboundary movement of a GMO intended for deliberate release into the environment. But pharmaceutical products for human use that are addressed by other international agreements or organizations recognized by the EU are excluded from the scope of the new rules.

Access to environmental information will be improved, too. Exporters are requested to keep for five years the notification sent to the authorities in the importing state prior to the first transboundary movement of a GMO. The notification will contain names and contact details of the exporter and importer, and must be copied to the authorities in the EU country from which the GMO is exported, as well as to the European Commission. On request, the Commission will make those copies available to the public.

International Science Council Supports Ag-Bio

The International Council for Science released Tuesday a new overview of GM crops that provides strong support for the use of biotechnology in agriculture. The report, "New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries - Societal Dilemmas," is a synthesis of more than 50 science-based reviews on the risks and benefits of applying new genetic discoveries to food and agriculture.

The report was commissioned by the Advisory Committee on Genetic Experimentation and Biotechnology of ICSU, a global nongovernmental organization of national scientific bodies and international scientific unions, and an active advocate for freedom in the conduct of science.

"This report is based on thorough examination of reviews prepared by national academies of sciences, international organizations and private agencies over the past three years," said author Gabrielle Persley. "We've analyzed key issues, identified areas of scientific convergence and divergence, and highlighted gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed through further research."

In relation to societal concerns about genetically modified foods and other genetically modified organisms, the report addresses what it sees as five key questions: who needs GM foods, whether they are safe to eat, whether they will affect the environment, whether regulations are adequate, and whether they will affect trade. ICSU sees it as a readily available resource tool for scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders.

"ICSU recognizes that the safety and environmental concerns associated with GM foods and GMOs are directly linked to issues of food security and poverty, particularly in emerging economies," said Carthage Smith, deputy executive director of ICSU. "Putting this material into the hands of people around the globe will help them to understand the issues and inform policy development and future research."