The European Union has given its first indication that it may lift its five year block on GMOs, stating that the ban could be lifted before the end of the year.
Health and consumer protection commissioner David Byrne said yesterday that member states would be given the chance to vote on allowing a new type of genetically modified maize for use in food, BT11 sweet corn which is currently produced by Swiss firm Syngenta.
If the vote is approved by a majority it could open the flood gates to a host of patented GMO crops, particularly from biotech firms in the US, where the technology and planting of such crops is far more advanced. Both the US government and US biotechnology companies have been pressurising EU legislators to relax its rulings on GMO crops. Indeed, US farmers are claiming that the ban is currently costing them as much as $300 million a year in lost trade.
"It is possible that the Syngenta product could be considered by the relevant regulatory committee before the end of the year," the Commissioner said.
However there is fierce opposition to GMOs amongst several of the 15 member states. Countries such as Belgium and Austria have committed themselves to opposing GMO until further research work is available to determine their impact on the environment.
Presently the EU has approved rules for growing gene crops and legislation for the strict labelling of food and animal feed containing even traces of GMOs is due to be introduced in the spring 2004.
Still to be defined is the legislation for GMO seeds, with member states working towards an agreement which will define a maximum GMO content. The EU is also working towards means of avoiding GMO crop contamination amongst traditional strains of crop.
A report from British scientists which has leaked into the British national press this week is said to indicate that the mass cultivation of certain GM crops could potentially have devastating consequence to natural plant and insect life. The report is due to be officially published in the next few days.