Undecided limits on the amount of genetically modified organisms in cereal and vegetable seeds have thrown the GMO debate in into further disarray this week, as EU setbacks for agricultural biotech have delayed voting until next spring.
The EU found itself deadlocked this week when the biotech industry and various green groups came head to head in the continuing debate over seed labeling.
"We'd like to see this resolved, the sooner the better," said Tom McDermott a biotechnology company spokesman.
In a move to protect organic farmers from contamination of cross pollinated GMO seeds, the EU's executive body proposed seeds containing between 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent GMOs to be labeled, dependent on crop.
However, both the green groups and the biotech industries criticised the proposal, with biotech heads believing the levels to be too restrictive, and green groups seeing it as decidedly generous.
With a decision on GMO seed rules hoped for this week, EU voting has now been delayed until early next year having reached no consensus between the opposing groups.
The latest dispute has further highlighted Europe's nervousness over GMOs. After the US government suing the EU at the World Trade Organisation, Europe has been forced to lift its barriers against GMOs.
With an informal ban on approving new GMO products being in place for the past five years, resolving organic farmers' fears is considered crucial to reversing the trend.
But spokespersons for green groups such as Greenpeace say "the delay is a further victory for the environment", with environmentalists hoping for a threshold as low as 0.1 per cent GMO.
Retailers caught in the middle also agree with a lower per cent, seeing it as a solution to save further worry in separating GMO and non-GMO products later in the food chain.
"We urge the Commission and the member states to adopt strict purity standards for GM contamination of seeds," said EuroCommerce, representing the retailer sector.
The proposed EU thresholds that were previously hoped by the Commission to be implemented in Spring 2004 have also been criticised by other GMO-sceptic countries such as Italy and Austria. These countries call for a tolerance of just 0.1 per cent in traditional crops with Italy pushing for zero per cent GMO presence.