EU Bureaucrats Back off on Lifting GMO Moratorium

EU Bureaucrats Back off on
Lifting GMO Moratorium

Inside US Trade

Date: January 25, 2002

European Commissioners last week backed off from a plan to force a decision
from member state leaders this spring on how to handle the European Union's
approval of new varieties of genetically modified organisms. It will no
longer push at the March Barcelona summit for member state leaders to lift
an existing moratorium, but will raise the issue of EU competitiveness in
the field of biotechnology.

The decision not to place the biotech moratorium on the summit agenda was
taken last week at an informal meeting of commissioners charged with the
contentious biotechnology issue, sources said. It included Health and
Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne and Environment Commissioner
Margot Wallstrom, both of whom had backed putting the decision before the
heads of state for a political decision. Also attending the meeting were EU
Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler and
Erkki Liikanen, commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society.

Sources speculated that the commissioners balked at forcing the heads of
state to take the controversial decision for fear such a high-profile push
would be shot down. In addition, elections in France this spring and in
Germany in the fall could decide whether Green parties, who have opposed
lifting the moratorium, will remain in government. Rather than hand these
parties an election issue with a push to lift the moratorium, the
commissioners decided to wait out the election results.

Undersecretary of State for Business, Economic and Agricultural Affairs
Alan Larson has highlighted the Barcelona summit as a date at which the
U.S. wants the EU to move forward on the biotechnology approvals. The
moratorium has halted some $300 million in U.S. corn shipments (Inside U.S.
Trade, Jan. 11, p.12).

The Barcelona summit agenda will include the EU's competitiveness in the
biotechnology field after a report released this week said the EU was
falling behind in the sector. But the recommendations for action do not
include a resumption of approvals, which have been blocked for three years
by a minority of member states. Instead, the report "invites" the
Parliament and member states Council to speed up adoption of labeling,
traceability and GMO food and feed regulations.

It also calls for a variety of legislative, research and educational
initiatives, including adoption of labeling and traceability regulations
the U.S. contends will disrupt trade.

Industry sources said that in absence of a decision at the Barcelona summit
they are left wondering what avenues were left open to the U.S. to have
approvals restart. "All the jawboning has reached the point of where people
are now saying "What are we going to do now," one industry source said.

EU officials have been cool to suggestions that member states could be
taken to court over the moratorium or to suggestions that the Commission
use procedures to overrule objections on GMOs that have received favorable
scientific reviews.

The member states have refused to lift the moratorium prior to the adoption
of the traceability and labeling regulations, which is unlikely before
2003. But the Commission report, Life sciences and biotechnology--A
Strategy for Europe, mentions that these regulations could be completed in
2002. It highlights the setbacks for the development of the biotech
industry that has been caused by the controversy over biotechnology.

"While the public debate has contributed to awareness and concrete
improvements on important issues, it has also focused narrowly on
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and specific ethical questions, on
which public opinion has become polarized," the report says. "This has
stifled our competitive position, weakened our research capability and
could limit our policy options in the longer term."

The report lays out a multi-point action plan for the EU to proceed on
biotechnology. On approvals, the report sets a 2003 timeframe for the
Commission to report on options to "improve further the consistency and
efficiency of the framework for authorizing GMOs for deliberate release
into the environment, including a centralized authorization procedure.

The report also calls for long-term monitoring of the environmental impact
of GMOs and for a comparison of the impact of GMO-based animal feed versus
conventional feeds.

The commission will also finalize its work in 2002-2003 on environmental
liability for GMOs, another proposal that biotech interests find worrisome.

Also, the Commission will work to ensure that biotech regulations are
implemented uniformly among member states and provide guidance on testing
methodology. U.S. industry has expressed fears that individual member
states could impose draconian penalties under the proposed rules and that
testing procedures will disrupt trade.

It calls for further study and discussion with civil society on ethical and
socio-economic implications of biotechnology.

In addition, the report calls for continually assessing the competitiveness
of the EU biotech industry, boosting that competitiveness through various
policies through investment and protection of intellectual property.

The report also highlights international initiatives in biotechnology, such
as the EU's efforts to get approval for labeling and traceability in
international forums, like the Codex Alimentarius. It also calls for
effective research on an "appropriate mix" of traditional techniques and
new technologies in developing countries and protection of their
traditional knowledge. These points highlight the EU international strategy
on biotechnology, which has often run into opposition from the U.S.

Separately, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick brought the U.S.
campaign to promote biotechnology as a solution to world hunger to Geneva
last week, making his pitch both to African ambassadors and to those from
the Cairns group of agriculture exporters. In remarks to reporters Jan. 21,
Zoellick outlined an "ongoing push by the U.S. government" to lay a
foundation for increased acceptance and use of biotechnology. Zoellick said
his pitch to African and Cairns group official was meant to lay the
diplomatic groundwork for this initiative. He highlighted biotech crops as
a tool to deal with world malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.


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