BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European environment ministers heard a series of apologies from European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström at their Environment Council meeting Thursday in Brussels. But they did not get a clear view on the state of preparation of the Commission's planned proposal on traceability and labeling of GMOs and products derived from them.

The commissioner explained that a suitable balance had still not been found between the need to impose controls and the need to sustain the European biotechnology industry. Problems, she said, remained to be resolved in order to ensure that the proposal will be effective, without entailing an excessive burden on operators. Different views within the Commission had not been reconciled. But she told ministers that the Commission still might be able to agree on a plan during March.

The Council politely but firmly encouraged the Commission to pursue its work on the proposal, stressing its importance as a complement to the recently adopted directive on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment. The policy debate that ministers intended to hold on the proposal will now have to be left for the next EU Environment Council, in June.

Commission Establishes GMO Discussion Platform

To help raise the level of debate in Europe over biotechnology, the European Commission has set up what it is calling a "European Integrated Discussion Platform." Its main purpose is to assess the safety of genetically modified food crops, since putting these products on the European market "has given rise to public concern, due to both ethical reasons and general unfamiliarity with the new techniques being applied."

The platform will address the underlying issues in the debate about genetic modification. According to the Commission, it aims to examine the effectiveness of current safety evaluation methods, coordinate ongoing safety testing research into transgenic foods, and discuss gene transfer risks. It also will help develop new strategies for detection of GM contamination, assess the quality-control systems used for tracking and tracing of genetically modified raw materials and processed products, and help design test methodologies for safety and nutritional evaluation of whole complex foods. In addition, it will develop a communication platform of GMO producers, scientists, retailers, regulatory authorities and consumer groups.