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GM organic contamination stokes EU controversy

By staff reporter, 24-May-2006

Related topics: Legislation

The threshold for the contamination of organic products with genetically modified organisms (GMO) was one of the most controversial issues discussed by EU agriculture ministers this week.

The new EU regulation on organic production was discussed for the first time on Monday. At least 10 Member States at the Council called for the GMO threshold of 0.9 per cent for conventional products to be formulated much more strictly for organic agriculture.

Critics of gene technology, including Greece, Italy and Austria, were particularly vehement.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel countered that the burden on organic agriculture in the EU must not be increased unnecessarily. She argued that a GMO threshold of less than 0.9 per cent would increase costs in organic agriculture.

She said that the situation should not be made more difficult for such a promising sector.

In addition, Austria's agriculture minister Josef Proll, the current president of the EU agriculture council, called for low GMO threshold for conventional agricultural seeds.

Two further meetings have been scheduled to iron out these differences.

"The two further meetings of the council working group that have been scheduled now make it possible for the Finnish Presidency to reach conclusions before the end of the year," said Austria's agriculture minister Josef Proll, the current president of the EU agriculture council.

Some points were less controversial. The Member States agree that, with regard to organic agriculture, the Commission should not have greater influence than it has hitherto.

All the Member States took the view that details of production technology should continue to be deliberated on the regulatory committee and not on the management committee, where the Commission has the final word.

In addition, the ministers unanimously approved conclusions setting two main tasks for the EU Commission. Firstly, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas is to submit a proposal for a GMO threshold for conventional seeds.

Secondly, the Commission should examine whether additional rules from Brussels on coexistence are appropriate. On this point, the Commission has agreed to compile and evaluate studies on the various national liability regulations and guidelines on segregation of GMO and conventional crops in the Member States by the end of June.

However, the Commission made no pledge on the proposal for seeds, especially as the Commissioner responsible was not present. Proll explained that the threshold for seeds should be kept as low as possible.

"We shall be very careful to ensure a sensible solution to this problem is found," he said. "Today's policy debate on organic products has, without doubt, clearly shown that organic agriculture is considered very important for the future."