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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 02:15 GMT 03:15 UK

World: Europe

EU moves closer to GM ban

Greenpeace demonstrators protest against GM food in Athens

European Union environment ministers have moved closer to a moratorium on authorising new genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Food under the microscope
The ban would be temporary, while new rules are agreed to reassure consumers of the safety of GM crops.

German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin said: "Until new rules are in place, we don't want any new products to be released.

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher: There is no legal basis for a blanket moratorium
"It will be a de facto moratorium, though legally-speaking we can't call it that."

Ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss how to modify their licensing policy in the period of up to two years it could take the European Parliament to enact new laws.

France argues for ban

[ image:  ]
France, a leading voice against GM food, proposed a ban on all planting and cultivation of GM crops.

Supported by Greece, Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg, it argued that public confidence in GM products is so low, that their proliferation should be halted until clear safeguards are put in place.

But the UK objected, saying a moratorium would be illegal under EU law, and could be challenged by foreign producers in the World Trade Organization. .

However, other countries agreed to allow the Germans - who currently hold the presidency of the EU - to draw up a "political declaration" incorporating the French demands.

Campaigners welcome move

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace welcomed the move towards a moratorium.

In a statement it said: "GMOs are an environmental threat and an unjustified experiment with food."

The EU's existing legislation on GM foods was enacted nine years ago, before any modified crops were being produced commercially.

Those laws are now out-of-date.

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