|Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p19
THE decision by six member states to maintain an unofficial ban on genetically-modified food leaves plant biotech companies at a crossroads.
The statement by France, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Austria and Luxembourg came as a blow to industry hopes that the deal on GM rules approved by the European Parliament last month would lead to the lifting of the moratorium on the approval of new products.
It also promises to widen the gap with the US - the focus of a new Commission report calling for European biotech to be considered part of the 'Lisbon process' of annual special summits on growth and employment.
Across the Atlantic, the climate is friendlier. The new US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said after taking office that biotechnology has the potential to make farmers more productive.
The Union's biotech industry is playing catch-up. Directors on the Agricultural Biotech Europe (ABE) panel - the campaigning arm of industry lobby EuropaBio - will meet later this month to agree on the strategy behind a bid to convince a sceptical public of GM food's benefits.
Publicly, the group of firms - led by Monsanto, Syngenta, Aventis, DuPont Pioneer and Dow Agroscience - are dismissing claims that they might explore legal options for breaking the deadlock.
"I haven't heard of any legal moves," said Bernard Graciet, head of public affairs at Syngenta. "Our position is to work closely with the Commission to get the moratorium lifted."
But much could depend on the length of the ban. "The agreement with the Commission was that the moratorium would be lifted when traceability and labelling were proposed," said one industry advisor. "If they now say they first have to be on the statute book, that could prolong the moratorium by years. No company will wait forever."
The countries pledged to maintain the ban until "effective arrangements are adopted for the traceability and labelling of GMOs", leaving much room for interpretation.
Firms are already signalling their intention to move fast on the measures as soon as official proposals emerge.
But supporters of the moratorium believe the message is clear. "It would be quite illogical for them to change their position on the approval of GMOs just when the Commission comes out with an official proposal," said Dan Leskien, adviser to the Greens in the Parliament.
Article forms part of a survey on EU-US relations.
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