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EU Ministers rejected proposals by the European Commission to lift the GM bans, imposed on safety grounds by Austria, Luxembourg and Germany, France and Greece. Attempts by the European Commission to overturn the bans follow a dispute over GM foods at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the United States government claims they are a barrier to trade. UK environment minister Elliot Morley re-affirmed the current Government's pro-GM stance by insisting that he would be voting for the Commission's proposals to lift the bans.
Between 1997 and 2000, the five EU countries banned a variety of GM crops on safety grounds. The stance was opposed by the European Commission who asked all EU member states to vote on proposals requiring the five countries to lift their bans within 20 days. Member states voted on this issue last November, but the results were inconclusive. The vote by Environment Ministers (the first on GM since 1998) is a significant shift in position across the EU against GM crops and foods.
"The vote to allow EU countries to maintain their bans on GM food and crops, is a vote for common sense, and a victory for European consumers, who are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food," said Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Emily Diamand. "But the actions of the UK today have been appalling. It is bad enough that Elliot Morley should ignore public opinion on this important issue. But it is outrageous that he should try and stop other countries saying no to GM. His actions will do nothing to improve the UK's battered reputation on this issue, or help its poor image in Europe."
There is virtually no market for GM foods in Europe as consumers have overwhelmingly rejected them. New EU labeling and traceability regulations came into force on April 18th giving consumers better information to decide. Official opinion polls show that 94.6% of EU citizens want the right to choose and 70.9% simply do not want GM food.
"The EU is under considerable pressure at the WTO, and not only due to the lack of action (on national GMO bans) in previous years. And further delays would weaken our position at the WTO," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said. "This does not call our regulatory framework into question...(which) is the strictest in the world. We are going to apply the existing framework and we are obliged to do so."
TAKE ACTION: There has been some movement on banning GMOs in the United States. Mendocino County, CA passed a county-wide GMO ban in March 2004, and other municipalities are attempting to pass similar policies. For help getting a policy passed on your area, contact Beyond Pesticides. For more information on GMOs, see Beyond Pesticides Genetic Engineered Food webpage.