BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ The European Union is taking legal action against seven of its own member states for failing to put EU legislation in place on biotechnology research. The European Commission is taking France, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Austria to the European Court of Justice, it said last Friday.

The Commission accuses these countries, which include some of the EU¿s most active member states in biotechnology, of not bringing their national laws into line with the EU Directive on the Contained Use of Genetically Modified Micro-organisms (GMM) ¿ the principal EU legislation governing the physical conditions for biotechnology research. They should have adopted the latest changes to the rules by June 5, 2000.

Most of the member states accused have not modified their rules in line with the October 1998 amendments to the directive, which revised the risk assessment procedure to take account of not only the type of GMM involved (including viruses and bacteria), but also the type of research being conducted. It requires that laboratory work should be carried out in such a way as to limit possible harmful effects on human health and the environment. This involves classification of GMMs in relation to the risks that they present and applying appropriate physical, biological and chemical containment measures, including use of sealed laboratories or containers, GMMs that cannot reproduce, and inactivation through use of chemicals.

But France is being attacked for not even fully transposing the original directive, which was adopted in 1990.

The European Commissioner for Environment, Margot Wallstrvm, said: ¿Advances made in GMM risk assessment methods that are incorporated in EU legislation must be taken into account in the national laws of all member states. This is essential to maintain a high level of protection for human health and the environment.¿

Belgium says legislation was being prepared for all three Belgian regions, but the European Commission says no region has adopted a text. Germany and Spain say laws implementing the directive are being worked on, but the commission says it has seen no evidence of them. The United Kingdom has introduced implementing legislation for part of its territory, but not for Northern Ireland. Spain responded that an implementing text was being prepared, but again, no final adopted text was communicated to the European Commission. Austria has implemented only part of the rules, and the commission says it sees no evidence of efforts to fill in the gaps. Greece has not even replied to the commission criticism.