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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK

World: Europe

EU clamps down on GM foods

Greenpeace demonstrators protest against GM food in Athens

Tough new controls on genetically-modified (GM) foods have been agreed by the European Union following public fears about their safety.

The decision means that the EU is unlikely to authorise any new genetically modified crops before 2002, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said.

The new measures include:

  • Stricter risk assessments before GM products are licensed

  • Better labelling

  • Continued monitoring of GM foods once on the market

  • New GM foods approved for sale will have to apply for re-approval after 10 years

Environment ministers agreed to the new controls after 20-hours of negotiations in Luxembourg.

Food under the microscope
But the proposal still has to be passed by the European Parliament, which could take at least a year.

The ministers also agreed for the first time to begin a formal study into the ethics of producing GMOs.

Angus Roxburgh in Brussels: Risk assessment will be improved
UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the decision had taken "many hours of anguished negotiation".

"No-one can now and in the future seriously argue that the regulatory procedures are not tight, comprehensive and balanced and in my opinion very effective,'' he added.

"The question of a liability regime will be looked at and this will determine who will be responsible if things go wrong."

[ image:  ]
Ministers avoided the word moratorium but Mr Trittin said the agreement amounted to a de facto halt on new GM approvals until a new law on licensing the products is up and running - probably in 2002.

He said it was "rather unlikely" any more GMOs would be approved under the present system.

"There was a political consensus that everything should be done to avoid any authorisations under the existing rules," he added.

France calls for outright ban

The ministers' talks went on through the night, held up for hours by French demands that, as an interim measure, the EU should ban all new GM crops.

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher: There is no legal basis for a blanket moratorium
Supported by Greece, Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg, France said public confidence in GM products was so low, that their proliferation should be halted until clear safeguards are in place.

But other countries, led by Britain, argued successfully that this would be illegal and unnecessary.

The UK said a moratorium would be illegal under EU law, and could be challenged by foreign producers in the World Trade Organisation.

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.

There are currently 18 GM crops approved for marketing in the EU. Four more applications have been put on hold pending the outcome of the Luxembourg talks.

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