BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union environment ministers gave a cautious reception to the European Commission's recent bid to break the deadlock on genetically modified organism product authorizations in Europe.
Gathered in Paris, they ruled out any early lifting of the de facto moratorium they have imposed on new GMO products. The commission plan to provide greater safeguards to reassure anxious governments and citizens was welcome, but not sufficient, the ministers indicated.
France, Italy, Denmark, Greece and Luxembourg stuck to their hard-line insistence on a moratorium until additional EU rules are in place on labeling, traceability and environmental liability. Spanish Environment Minister Jaume Matas Palou indicated his government could support the commission, while the UK and Ireland declined to offer any firm views.
French Minister Dominique Voynet, who hosted the meeting, said EU member state ministers need further safety mechanisms to be in place before they will lift their embargo. Public opinion also will have to be brought around to the idea of resuming GMO authorizations, she added.
The formal French conclusion to the meeting said that a "thorough debate" on the way EU rules should evolve had led to consensus on the need for reliable labeling of genetically modified products, not only when seeds are introduced on the market, but right up to the final consumer.
"They have insisted upon the necessity of implementing a legally binding framework ensuring the traceability of genetically modified products," the conclusion said, noting that proposals have been promised by the European Commission this autumn. Meanwhile, the conclusions say, work must start "without delay" on creating a harmonized legal framework to establish the liability of operators for damages that GMOs may cause to the environment.
In any case, Voynet said, the EU will not have a satisfactory legal framework until decisions are taken in all those fields, and the revision of the basic 1990 EU directive on biotechnology product authorizations is an indispensable part of this framework. The revision of this measure (Directive 90/220/EEC) also is currently blocked, in a dispute over details between EU ministers and the European Parliament, and efforts to find a compromise will commence only in September.