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Divided EU to debate ways to grow GM crops

(Thursday, Sept. 25, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: BRUSSELS - EU agriculture ministers will lay bare their divisions over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) next week when they discuss guidelines on growing biotech crops in Europe's fields, officials said on Thursday.

Austria and Luxembourg are pressing for tough EU legislation in a "one size fits all" approach, to limit the spread of GMOs from biotech crops to organic and conventional varieties. Both countries have said European Commission guidelines released last July are too vague as each country can decide for itself how to organize GMO crop sowing -- by planting hedgerows to stop the spread of GMOs and ensuring farmers have insurance.

But an EU official said Austria and Luxembourg, two of the bloc's most GMO-skeptic states, might find themselves in a minority as other traditionally hostile countries such as France were pushing for a solution behind the scenes.

"It's a fait accompli," the official said. "I think that things (debate) are petering out."

EU farm ministers will discuss the issue on Monday at a meeting in Brussels.

This is one of the last pieces in the legal puzzle on GMOs in Europe. Rules for growing gene crops are already in place, while legislation for labeling food and animal feed containing GMOs is being rubber-stamped and should apply by spring 2004.

EU member states are split over seed purity rules. Setting levels for GMO content in seed for organic and conventional crop cultivation is necessary for the EU to end its unofficial five-year ban on biotech crops.

EU officials could not agree this week on a Commission proposal calling for organic and conventional rapeseed to have a 0.3 percent limit on GMO content, 0.5 percent for maize and 0.7 percent for soybeans.

The EU's seeds committee will meet again in late October to vote on the proposal but for countries such as Italy and Austria, these levels are still way too high. However, under the EU's weighted voting system, they could be outvoted.

The Commission could ask EU states to vote on introducing new genetically modified crops and food products as early as January next year, officials say.