EU: Environment Ministers Freeze GMO authorisations

Environment Ministers from five EU states have signed a written declaration that they will not allow any new authorisations for the release of genetically modified organisms, until new regulations are adopted to ensure labelling and traceability of GMOs and their derivatives.

Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg all called for a more rigorous framework for risk evaluation, monitoring and labelling of GMOs, citing the need to restore public confidence and apply the precautionary principle.
They requested that the Commission make no delay in presenting plans for legislation to guarantee labelling and traceability of GMOs and their derivatives. Until such legislation is adopted, these five countries declared they would use their powers to prevent any new authorisations for growing or putting on the market of GMOs.

In a similar statement, the Austrian, Belgian, Finnish, German, Netherlands and Swedish delegations stressed the need for a more transparent and strict framework on critical issues such as risk assessment, monitoring and labelling as well as the need to restore the trust of public opinion and of the market.

These governments said they intend:

  • to take a thoroughly precautionary approach in dealing with notifications and authorisations for the placing on the market of GMOs,
  • not to authorise the placing on the market of any GMOs until it is demonstrated that there is no adverse effect on the environment and human health, and
  • to the extent legally possible to apply immediately the principles, especially regarding traceability and labelling, laid down in the political agreement for a revision of Directive 90/220/EEC reached by the Council on 24/25 June 1999.

Political agreement

With the abstention of France, Ireland and Italy Ministers reached a political agreement, on the revision of the Directive on Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Organisms into the environment.

The main amendments included the time limitation of a maximum of 10 years of market approvals of new GMOs; the inclusion of ethical considerations in the approval process will allow the authorities to asses the impacts of GMOs beyond exclusively scientific consideration; and a commitment to the precautionary principle in all decisions regarding GMOs; as well as mandatory traceability for each GMO and improved labelling provisions to overcome the present confusion and force a segregation of GM crops.

Ministers did not agree to a mandatory liability scheme nor include socio-economic considerations in the scope of the assessment. Although the European Parliament, which had proposed these measures, may try to insist on their implementation at the second reading of the Directive.

De facto moratorium?

There was some confusion following the meeting, as to whether or not there is now a de facto moratorium on new GMO authorisations. After the meeting, German Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin said that all delegations were opposed to new authorisations under existing rules.
Sources close to the Council told edie that while it is not legally possible to establish an official moratorium, it is very unlikely that any new authorisations will be granted until a new directive comes into force, and this is likely to take around two years.
Only around 12 authorisation have been granted in total. None have been granted in recent years, and it is likely to stay that way, edie was told.

Greenpeace welcomed what it descirbed as “the de facto moratorium on the approval of GMOs”.

“This decision has serious implications for Europe and in the world market and ministers know it,” said Greenpeace GE co-ordinator Benedikt Haerlin. “Just the fact that after an initial announcement of the moratorium yesterday afternoon they struggled till 5 am this morning to finalise the details goes to show that”

“Despite the minor differences of the legal wording of two different declarations signed by all member states except the UK, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, there is no doubt that no new GMOs will enter the market in the EU within the one and a half to two years” Haerlin said.

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