BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ The European Union failed again last week to resolve its long-running row over authorization of genetically modified organisms.

EU environment ministers refused to lift the unofficial moratorium they imposed in 1998 as a response to safety concerns from environmentalists in many of the 15 EU member states.

The European Commission ¿ the EU¿s civil service ¿ had been hoping to persuade the member states to end their embargo at the Oct. 29 meeting of the EU¿s Environment Council. They expected that the proposals they tabled in July on traceability and labeling for GMOs would remove the last anxieties over safety.

Margot Wallstrvm, the European environment commissioner, pleaded vigorously for a fresh start, but member states refused to budge. They insisted that until the Commission proposals are amended, revised, adopted and brought into force, the moratorium stays in place, which means continued delay for at least another two years.

The meeting was chaired by Belgian environment minister, Magda Aelvoet ¿ herself a strong champion of the environmentalist point of view. She stressed the importance for the consumer to have correct and complete information to allow a free choice. And in her summary of the meeting, she said the debate ¿helped in clarifying the positions.¿

Ministers took no account of the heavy lobbying they had been subjected to by the European biotechnology industry. EuropaBio, the main industry-wide European association, had loudly welcomed the European Commission¿s ¿leadership in trying to untangle EU legal instability¿ on GMO authorizations. ¿We are keen to ensure that the labeling and traceability laws meet member state requirements and consumer demands while recognizing the realities of agricultural production,¿ said Hugo Schepens, secretary general of EuropaBio. ¿But we also want to see progress on restarting the approval process for GM products.¿

The biotech industry¿s voluntary commitments to respect the more stringent rules even before they become law, in an effort to put the authorization process back on track, proved fruitless. ¿The current breakdown in the process to evaluate products for approvals is not justified scientifically or legally and severely jeopardizes confidence in the EU regulatory systems,¿ Schepens said.