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Europe OKs New Biotech Food Rules

Updated 6:20 PM ET February 14, 2001
By CONSTANT BRAND, Associated Press Writer

STRASBOURG, France (AP) - The European Parliament approved rules on
the marketing and production of genetically modified food that may
end the EU's 3-year-old moratorium on the licensing of new biotech
products as early as next year.

The assembly voted 338-to-52, with 85 abstentions, on Wednesday to
endorse what the bill's author, British socialist David Bowe, called
"the toughest GMO legislation in the world." GMO stands for
genetically modified organism.

The new rules - which still require the endorsement of the 15 EU
governments - include stricter labeling and monitoring on genetically
altered foods, feeds, seeds and pharmaceutical products.

They include phasing out over eight years implanting antibiotics in
plant genes, a practice that could cause allergic reaction in
consumers. They also set up a public registry where consumers can
trace genetically modified foods.

Green party members abstained from voting because the new rules could
lead to lifting the moratorium on the approval of new biotech
products.

"The new directive goes along the right lines to protect the
environment and human health," said Green party leader Paul Lannoye
of Belgium. "However, it should not be seen by member states as an
encouragement to lift the ban on new GMO releases."

The rules approved by the European Parliament must still be endorsed
by the EU governments and parliaments, which may take 18 months.
Meanwhile, officials said, the moratorium on the licensing of new
biotech crops remains in place.

Genetically altered foods are unpopular in Europe. A survey cited by
the EU last year found a majority of Europeans see them as a health
hazard.

Environmental groups expressed concern the measures as approved by
the EU assembly did not go far enough.

"There are key issues missing that will leave the public, consumers
and farmers exposed to the risks of GMOs," said Gill Lacroix of
Friends of the Earth.

He said his group wants the moratorium to remain in place to allow
for more risk assessment.

Several EU governments -notably France, Italy and Greece - question
the safety of genetically modified foods.

To date, the EU has approved 18 genetically altered products. In the
last three years, EU governments have stopped granting licenses in
the face of public health and environment concerns.

Companies producing modified foods are awaiting regulatory approval
for several products, including genetically altered corn,tomatoes,
potatoes and cotton. Some applications date back to 1996.

The European consumers' organization BEUC welcomed the new bill, but
said it should be followed up with legislation that makes producers
liable for any damage to the environment from biotech crops.

=============================================================

GM Multinationals Are Thrown A Lifeline
With New Rregulations

Special report: GM debate

Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Thursday February 15, 2001
The Guardian

US multinationals which have staked their future on the success of
genetically modified food were last night thrown a lifeline after the
European parliament backed new rules for GM products, increasing the
chances that a two-year ban on their use can be lifted soon.

In a historic vote in Strasbourg, Euro-MPs voted overwhelmingly in
favour of tough rules to test and monitor the safety of GM food and
crops before they can be authorised for sale, marketing or even
planting in the EU.

No new GM crops have been approved by the EU since April 1998 and a
de facto moratorium on further approvals has been in place since June
1999.

Many countries have argued that it is politically unacceptable to
restart the stalled approvals process until stricter rules governing
the use of GM food can be put in place.

With yesterday's vote a tough new regulatory framework is ready to be
implemented. Strict regulations governing the labelling and
traceability of GM food are also on the way.

David Bowe, the Labour MEP who steered the legislation through, told
the Guardian said: "This effectively means the end of the moratorium
and the end of a gentleman's agreement. I would anticipate some new
GM approvals before the autumn and this time next year I would expect
to see new GM crops in British fields."

He added: "These are the toughest GM licensing laws in the world.
With this vote, consumers can have confidence that GM products
licensed for sale in the EU have met the toughest standards anywhere."

The government has already struck an informal agreement with GM
producers, however, ensuring that no commercial GM products will be
planted in Britain until the results of current trials are known.

The Labour MP Joan Ruddock confirmed that the government would not
move on the issue until it was sure that the technology had "no
unacceptable effects on the environment or human health".

The European commission is desperate to lift the moratorium as soon
as possible because it fears it will be sued by increasingly
frustrated US multinationals such as Monsanto.

Although the legislation will take 18 months to become law, the EC
has made no secret of the fact that it wants it to take immediate
effect provided GM firms give their word that they will abide by the
new rules in the meantime.

Green groups were disappointed with the vote and called for the
moratorium to remain. Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth said: "This
new GM directive will not protect European consumers, farmers or the
environment."

EuropaBio, a lobby group representing some of the biggest biotech
firms, welcomed the vote as "a democratic commitment to giving
the technology a future".

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