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EC rejects request to shelve GM foods separately

By Lorraine Heller , 16-Mar-2006

The European Commission has rejected a notification by Cyprus that required genetically modified foods to be displayed separately from non-GM foods in supermarkets.

The decision was taken on grounds that the legal base on which the Cypriot authorities submitted the notification is subject to certain conditions that do not apply in the case of this draft legislation, said the Commission.

In September 2005, the Cyprus Parliament had notified the Commission of a draft law that would require supermarkets to place GM foods on specially designated shelves, separate from non-GM foods.

The bill highlights increasing concerns when it comes to protecting consumer choice and public health in the face of what is perceived by many as a GM threat.

The Cyprus government submitted the notification under Article 95(5) of the EC Treaty, which allows a member state to introduce national legislation that differs from harmonized EU rules, under certain conditions.

These exemptions must be based on new scientific evidence relating to the protection of the environment or the working environment, on grounds of a problem specific to that member state according to the Commission.

After a six month consultation period, the Commission yesterday announced that evidence provided by the Cyprus authorities did not meet the conditions of Article 95(5) and therefore was non-admissible.

However, the issue adds another building block in the wall erected by member states that have not warmed easily to GM acceptance.

Indeed, just last month the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that the EU and six member states broke trade rules by barring entry to GM crops and foods between June 1999 and August 2003.

And although Brussels again began authorising imports of GMOs in May 2004, only seven crops and foods were given the green light. Further bans were imposed by France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece.

In any case, the WTO ruling may prove more symbolic than effective, given that the EU claims it has no ban on safe GM products. More importantly, widespread consumer rejection of GM products will likely mean that the technology remains untouchable for many manufacturers and retailers.

It is clear that member states still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable. The Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.

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