|Author (Person)||Chapman, Peter, Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.3, No.41, 13.11.97, p1|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
A FIERCE internal battle is still raging within the European Commission over updated rules for approving the use of genetically-modified products, less than a week before the institution is due to unveil its proposals.
Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard faces strong opposition from some of her colleagues to her plans for revising the much-criticised '90/220' directive, which deals with the deliberate release of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.
Bjerregaard's proposed changes stress the need to strengthen the scientific evaluation of GMO products - such as maize which has been genetically altered to resist disease - and are also likely to suggest that licences for new products be granted for a limited period and are subject to review.
But the biotechnology industry argues that Bjerregaard's proposals are far too stringent and claims she is being pressured to act by the consumer and 'green' lobbies, concerned about food safety in the wake of the BSE crisis.
Within the Commission, the attack is being led by the institution's trade supremo Sir Leon Brittan and industry champion Martin Bangemann.
"We are not happy with the text. It does not address key issues and gives the impression the Commission is starting to doubt the biotechnology industry," said a source close to Brittan. "We are legislators and don't think legislators should be carried away by public opinion."
Both Brittan and Bangemann point out that the Commission has repeatedly held up the biotechnology industry as a growth sector in the EU and claim Bjerregaard's plans would effectively stifle it in the face of international competition. Industry critics of the current directive claim it is cumbersome, difficult for companies to understand and gives too much power to secretive Commission committees.
Under Bjerregaard's proposals, a new invention would be licensed for a limited period - officials are currently talking about between five and seven years - during which time its effect on the environment would be closely monitored. If it was found to comply with the directive during the assessment period, a permanent licence would then be granted.
But the biotechnology industry says such apparently well-intentioned moves will be of little use to firms seeking greater clarity over which products they will be allowed to market.
"Why should you have a time-limit for approval? If you are not sure that a product is safe, we say don't authorise it in the first place," said a spokesman for industry legal advisers Oppenheimer Wolff and Donnelly.
The Danish Commissioner is set to tackle the secrecy issue by suggesting an approval procedure which would give a much larger role to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
She will also suggest including in the revised directive the rules on labelling GMO products provisionally agreed by the institution earlier this year, obliging companies to say whether their products 'do contain' or 'may contain' GMOs. They also have the option of a 'does not contain GMOs' label.
However, critics claim the usefulness of this scheme is debatable, as Bjerregaard lost an earlier battle with her Commission colleagues over whether GMO products should be segregated from non-GMOs.
Brittan and Bangemann are calling for the introduction of a two-speed approval process for GMO inventions, with a fast-track procedure for 'uncontroversial' products, such as those already cleared for use in the US.
But Bjerregaard, backed by Consumer Commissioner Emma Bonino, insists ordinary European citizens support her approach.
"We feel this is morally right. I am quite sure public opinion supports us. We are not going to rush anything," said Bjerregaard's spokesman Peter Jorgensen.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry|