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EU lawmakers move to toughen GMO rules

(Friday, May 23, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --

BRUSSELS, May 22 (Reuters) - European lawmakers voted on Thursday to toughen draft legislation on labelling genetically modified food, a move the biotechnology industry fears may further delay opening the European Union market to hi-tech crops.

The EU is putting the finishing touches to legislation that would let consumers choose between GM and GM-free products, a key demand of GM-sceptic member states and wary public opinion.

The new rules could be in place by the end of 2003, raising the possibility EU states will end a de facto five-year-old ban on most GMOs that is to come under legal challenge from the United States.

But the European Parliament's environment committee on Thursday set back progress towards lifting the ban, according to the biotech industry.

The committee voted to make legislation stricter by obliging all food and feed containing more than 0.5 percent of GMOs to be labelled, compared with a level of 0.9 percent set by member states.

It also voted for the bill to include strict rules on how farmers must reduce the risk of GM crops spreading into fields planted with conventional and organic varieties.

If adopted, the clause would hold up the tight timetable to get the law in place and delay an EU decision to end the ban.

"We're concerned as they keep changing the goalposts (for the lifting of the ban)," said Adeline Farrelly, spokeswoman for Europabio, a group representing the biotechnology industry.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, condemned the vote.

"The Parliament has snubbed the U.S. This is a very adverse reaction," said Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder.

The Commission says the co-existence of different types of agriculture is a separate issue and should not be added to the bill on labelling requirements for GM food and feed.

It wants the problem solved at the national, not EU, level and is bringing forward guidelines in July.

But anti-GMO campaigners were cheered.

"The vote is positive," said Friends of the Earth GMO campaign co-ordinator Geert Ritsema. "Labelling is not enough in itself. We also need to guarantee GM-free supply."

EU farm ministers will discuss the issue next week during their monthly meeting.

The bill will now be passed to the full parliament, which can chose whether to confirm the committee's opinion. This is scheduled for July. Parliament shares legislative powers on the bill with national EU governments.