Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | November 27, 2007

Germany calls for review of how EU approves new biotech crops

Germany’s agriculture minister called on the European Union on Monday to suspend its approval procedure for new biotech crops and seeds, demanding governments undertake a wide-scale review of how genetically modified products can be used in Europe.”This (system) should be stopped and we should check: can the procedures stay as they are,” Horst Seehofer said before EU farm ministers talks which were discussing the contentious issue on the use of biotech crops in Europe.

He said that the current system in place, which has already received criticism from several EU nations, is “highly unsatisfactory.”

Germany has called for a debate on the 27-nation bloc’s policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, at an EU leaders summit in December.

The bloc’s biotech policy, meant to open its agricultural markets to more genetically altered crops, continues to be opposed by many EU governments including Germany, France, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Poland.

These countries remain wary of biotechnology and are fighting to keep the crops from their fields and out of their supermarkets.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel warned Seehofer and other EU ministers to “know what are the consequences” national biotech bans have on the supply of cereals.

She said that limiting the import of new crops for cultivation or use threatened the supply of animal feed for Europe’s pork, beef and chicken sectors.

Fischer Boel reminded them not to forget the current global historic shortages of such staples as wheat, corn and barley, the costs of which are at record highs, and are leading to higher costs for farmers and consumers.

“To postpone any new approvals will have dramatic consequences … and the result will be the production will move out of Europe and then we will have to import meat that is fed with GM products that are … not approved in Europe, but we will be eating it anyway because that is the only solution.”

She said the price of corn on the European market was 55 percent higher than in the United States partially because of burdensome and complex EU rules on the use of biotech crops.

Seehofer said the approval procedure, which tasks the EU’s European Food Safety Authority or EFSA to assess possible risks GMOs could cause to human and animal health as well as effects on the environment, was also influenced by the biotech industry.

The European Commission has already said it would toughen the EU’s approval system in wake of national criticism that the current system was unreliable.

A majority of EU governments led a revolt last year against the GMO procedures demanding changes in the way decisions are made in the EU’s complex approval system for biotech crops.

Only three countries — Britain, the Netherlands and Ireland — have said the current system was rigorous enough to meet high public safety concerns.

A final decision to place a GMO product for use on the EU market can be made solely by the European Commission, if EU governments fail to reach a majority decision on an approval recommended by EFSA.

Seehofer said leaving such decisions to the EU executive was too risky.

“Whether something is suitable for authorization or too risky is a scientific question that has to be taken by a competent authority,” Seehofer said. Politicians should then decide on rules for cultivation and labeling of the products, he said.

The EU is under growing pressure to open its market up to GMO products after trade rivals the United States, Canada and others won a case at the World Trade Organization last year that the EU’s de facto moratorium on biotech products was an unfair trade restriction.

Earlier this month, the world trade body called on the EU to lift its moratorium by Jan. 11.

The Commission is trying to force Austria and other nations to lift national bans on already approved biotech corn products.



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