BRUSSELS, Belgium - The marketing of four more transgenic crop varieties was formally approved by the European Commission. Under the 1990 European Union (EU) legislation on the dissemination of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment, authorizations were granted to AgrEvo's herbicide-tolerant swede rape, to be imported to the EU for processing following an application to the U.K.; AgrEvo's herbicide-tolerant maize, to be used as any other maize following an application to France; Monsanto's Bt-maize, to be used as any other maize also following an application to France; and Novartis' Bt-maize, which is tolerant to glufosinate ammonium, to be imported for processing following an application to the U.K.

The commission's approval of the products follows the advice in February of the European Union's scientific advisory panel and the delivery of a favorable opinion by the member states in March. In line with the complex EU authorization procedure, the EU member states where the applications for these products were originally lodged must still give their consent to the companies before the genetically modified products are allowed on the European market for the uses specified. (See BioWorld International, Feb. 18, 1998, p. 3.)

In exchange for its authorizations, AgrEvo has pledged to restrict handling of the products in the environment during import and before and during storage and processing, and to modify labeling while providing product documentation for companies known to import the product into the community for processing. This information will indicate the product has been produced by genetic modification and will cover the potential uses of the product.

Monsanto Europe has also committed itself to modifying its labeling to include a clear statement that all the bags contain seeds of maize obtained by genetic modification. It also has given an undertaking to the authorities that it will provide all purchasers with technical information on the development, mode of action and use of the seeds. Monsanto will inform international traders of countries exporting maize that any statements accompanying shipments must be in compliance with EU legislation.

The commitments entered into by the companies are concessions aimed at heading off further local action to frustrate marketing even after approval is granted. The authorization of GMO products has provoked controversy and divisions within the member states. For instance, Austria and Luxembourg currently refuse to lift a ban they have imposed on the marketing in their territories of products that have been duly authorized under EU procedures. (See BioWorld International, April 22, 1998, p. 1.)

The EU is in the process of reviewing its GMO authorization legislation, which has proved to be manifestly inadequate over recent months, since the authorizations it confers on products do not satisfy national concerns. If adopted in their present form, the proposed modifications will include new provisions to require more informative labeling, so that consumers will always be made aware when products they are buying contain, or may contain, GMOs. But the proposed modifications are still stuck in discussion within the EU institutions, so confusion continues to reign. *