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EU backs farmers who want to grow GM crops

(Thursday, July 24, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Local or national governments cannot ban farmers from planting genetically modified crops, the European Commission said on Wednesday, supporting those farmers who want to embrace the controversial technology.

The Commission's new guidelines -- part of a push to end the five-year moratorium on GMO crops that is under attack from the United States -- spell out how crops produced from genetically modified organisms can be grown alongside organic and conventional crops within the European Union.

"It is not possible for regions or national governments to introduce GMO-free zones," European Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler told a news conference.

But while authorities cannot prohibit farmers from planting GMO crops, regional groups of farmers were free to get together and decide against planting GMO crops, he said.

Authorities cannot ban farmers from using GMO crops as such a move would violate EU law giving farmers the freedom to choose.

However, Fischler said there could be an opt-out in cases where it was impossible to limit contamination of non-GM crops due to the variety of biotech crop being sown and the lay-out of fields.

"(In Austria) there is strip farming where fields are terribly narrow...you can't have (GM) maize on a little strip co-existing with other crops on the side."

The European Environmental Bureau, a non-governmental lobby group, called on EU governments to create GMO-free zones.

"The right to eat GM-free food will be severely compromised if GM crops are grown on a large scale," EEB head Mauro Albrizio said in a statement.


The provincial government of Upper Austria has banned genetically modified organisms but the European Food Safety Authority recently said there was no justification.

Farmers in that region may now be able to take action.

"In case you are from Upper Austria you can go to the European Court and say you disapprove of what Upper Austria is doing and feel your rights have been violated," Fischler said.

The Commission will take a final decision on the Austrian case in September, when EU farm ministers will discuss the Commission's new guidelines, which are not legally binding.

The co-existence debate is seen by many in the biotech industry as another way for GMO-skeptical countries to postpone lifting the five-year ban on most GMO crops.

Biotechnology lobby Europabio welcomed the guidelines.

"They set out the best practices member states should follow when growing GM crops," said a spokeswoman. "We now want the Commission to propose the GMO content in seeds."

The Commission's move follows the adoption of rules to label all GMO food and feedmeal, giving consumers the choice between GMO and non-GMO products on supermarket shelves.