GM free zones to threaten US-EU trade?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm crops, European union

MEPs last week voted to adopt a contentious report calling for
rules to be established at the community level on the coexistence
of genetically modified (GM) crops with ordinary crops. A move that
squares up against the Commission position that maintains member
states should be left to themselves to legislate on this matter. At
a national level, Denmark is taking the lead on this issue. Will
imminent Danish regulations become the European-wide standard ?

At a recent conference on co-existence, Marianne Fisher Boel, the Danish minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries outlined her specific plans for Danish legislation on co-existence.

In short, the bill will introduce a catalogue of measures aimed at securing coexistence that include isolation distances, cropping intervals, cleaning of machinery et al.

Placing firm responsibility on the shoulders of the farmer, according to the minister the measures will be mandatory, and the GM-farmer will be held responsible for complying with them.

On the flip side, a compensation facility will be established for organic and non-GM-farmers. If they suffer an economic loss due to the growing of GM-crops they can apply for compensation, said the minister.

'I will present the bill to the Danish Parliament in February 2004. I believe it to be the first bill on coexistence in Europe,"​ she added.

In July 2003 the Commission published 'guidelines' for the development of strategies and best practices to ensure the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming. Guidelines that sought to avoid the 'one size fits all' approach that would habe been impossible throughout all 15, soon to be 25, member states, commented food lawyer Raymond O'Rourke.

According to O'Rourke, leaving it up to member states to legislate on this matter has left open a major loophole which many states will be happy to utilise. In Europe, regions of UK, Italy, France, Germany and Austria have already declared that they will not permit GM crops on their land.

Crucially, O'Rourke claims that the current co-existence issue 'has the potential to derail present efforts to lift the de facto moratorium through the adoption of new legislation on traceability.'

The new rules, in force early next year, impose tough labelling rules on the presence of GM ingredients in food and animal feed. Observers widely believed that the new legislation would pave the way to an end to the current European moratorium on GM imports. A move which would please US GM farmers, an active bunch of lobbyists, anxious for an end to the ban that they deem as a barrier to trade.

'If regions within Europe begin to designate themselves as being 'GM free', then the EU will once again be seen to be stalling in the eyes of the Americans in its fulsome support for GM technology,'​ warns O'Rourke.

But as O'Rourke highlights, the problem for the EU goes further still. In 2000, and in the wake of food safety scares in Europe, European Commissioner David Byrne waved in a raft of new legislation destined to overhaul the EU regulatory system for foodstuffs.

'The GM issue will be a test of the lengths to which the EU will go to defends its new 'food safety agenda' on the international stage,'​ said O'Rourke. Adding that if it decides to compromise this agenda in a bid to placate the US, 'it will fundamentally undermine the new regulatory regime for foodstuffs, it's stated consumer protection credentials and most importantly the EU internal market.'

Related topics: Europe, Safety, Regulation, Grains

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