European business briefs: GM threat from US, France gets thermonuclear reactor, EEB’s cadium warning, Spanish offshore wind farm, WEEE changes waste, Candle health scare

Europe's attempts to stay GM-free could be thwarted by plans to allow the contamination of human food crops with biotech or GM experimental crops, which were published this week by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The proposal could be accepted in a couple of months, reducing the legal liability on biotech companies and acting as a major disincentive for them to control GM field tests. Contamination is therefore likely to increase. It is impossible to test for the presence of experimental GM food crops in foods imported from or processed in the US, because over two-thirds of US experimental GM crops contain genes classified as confidential which therefore can't be detected. Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe stated: "Because of the secrecy behind experiments in the United States, no one - not food companies, not even governments - will be able to test food products or food imports for contamination because they won't know what to test for. This will leave consumers worldwide exposed to new risks from genetically modified foods."

European Union ministers have stated that they will support proposals to offer Japan compensation in return for an agreement to build the world’s first thermonuclear reactor in France. Nuclear fusion is considered by many experts to be a long-term solution to the world’s energy problems as it is low on pollution and uses only seawater as fuel. But 50 years of research have so far failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor. The EU executive Commission last week offered Japan a package of incentives to persuade it to give up its bid to host the fusion reactor, allowing a site in Cadarache, France, to win instead.

The EEB has congratulated the Dutch European Presidency for standing firm against industry lobbies on the phasing out of toxic cadmium batteries in its work in the Council negotiations. Regrettably, the Presidency’s hard work is threatened by a handful of countries unable to free themselves from the grip of the battery industry lobby and face the facts that viable alternatives already exist. Cadmium is a known toxic and carcinogenic substance, with other known impacts such as kidney, bone and liver damage. ‘Member States have to cease cadmium emissions within 20 years under Europe’s Water Framework Directive, which lists cadmium and its compounds as one out of 11 priority hazardous substances. Cadmium use in batteries is one of the biggest emission sources after agriculture. Viable alternatives are already on the market but are less competitive due to cheap cadmium, a by-product from other processes. Member States will run into trouble if they don’t use this opportunity to apply the substitution principle and ban nickel-cadmium batteries as the most cost-effective measure to achieve their legal obligations,’ said Stefan Scheuer, EEB’s EU Policy Unit director.

Spanish renewable energy firm EHN this week announced plans to invest up to €1.5 billion euros in Spain’s first offshore wind park, which will be built by Cape Trafalgar. Building is scheduled to begin in 2007 and the park, with an installed capacity of up to 1,000 MW, is due to be completed by 2010. The turbines will stand 200 miles out to sea just off the Cadiz coast, where the sea is 30 metres deep.

“The coming into operation of the WEEE Directive from3 August next year will mark a seismic shift in the way we manage this waste stream”, so said Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government this week in Citywest where he opened an IBEC Conference on the implementation of a new EU Directive on the recycling of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) which is due to come into effect in Ireland and other EU countries on 13 August 2005. The Minister said that the concept of producer responsibility has been developed with considerable success in tackling waste both here and internationally. “This concept is central to the wider EU and national policy of finding integrated waste management solutions that lessen negative environmental impacts and promote efficient use of natural resources.”

And finally, Scientists from Maastricht University found that burning candles and incense in church can release dangerous levels of potentially carcinogenic particles, according to research published this week in the European Respiratory Journal. “After a day of candle burning we found about 20 times as much as by a busy road,” Theo de Kok, the author of the study, explained. The scientists found high levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as some unknown types of free radicals released from burning candles and incense. Free radical atoms act as starters and promoters of cancer tumours. “It could be an alternative to use fewer candles, better candles, use electric candles or improve ventilation,” Mr de Kok said.

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