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EXTRACT: Austrian Environment Minister Josef Pr ll said: "This is a very strong signal by the Council [of Ministers] for the Commission to reassess its policy [on GMOs]."
Austria finds backing for GMO bans
EurActiv.com, 19 December 2006
Environment ministers swept away a proposal by the Commission to force Austria to lift its ban on two GMO-maize varieties - environmental groups have applauded the decision.
A ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stated that Austria's ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), broke international trade laws. The ruling did not specifically forbid GMO bans, but judged that Austria had not undertaken the obligatory risk assessments according to WTO law.
The UN Biosafety Protocol, ratified by all EU member states allows countries to ban GMOs if there is no certainty about their risk. But the WTO does not respect this Protocol, as the complainants in the trade dispute, namely the US, Canada and Argentina, have not ratified it.
The Commission wanted to force Austria to lift its ban on two types of genetically modified maize, MON 810 and T 25, in order to conform to WTO rules. This is the second attempt by the Commission to force member states to drop their national GMO bans since June 2005.
The Council was largely united in voting down the Commission's proposal by qualified majority on 18 December 2006, with only the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Sweden opposed.
Austrian Environment Minister Josef Pr ll said: "This is a very strong signal by the Council for the Commission to reassess its policy [on GMOs]."
But the Council argued that, due to different agricultural and regional ecological characteristics, a temporary ban of the two GMOs was justified.
The Commission says it is now 'weighing the options' after the vote in the Council. It further states it will Ã¬carefully consider the legal and scientific bases that would underpin any further proposals.
Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer welcomed the Council decision. She said it was absurd of the Commission to act like this in face of problems with coexistence and unexplained health and environmental damage. She added that due to the current findings it was negligent to admit the genetically modified maize MON810 into the EU at all.
GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, Helen Holder said: "This is a major defeat for the biotech industry and their friends in the Commission. Every country must have the democratic right to protect its citizens and environment. Neither the Commission nor the WTO should be allowed to force Europeans to eat genetically modified foods."
Martina Holbach, policy adviser on GMOs at Greenpeace stated: "EU environment ministers should be congratulated for defending the environment and consumer protection against US trade interests and commercial pressures." She added: "The Commission should drop plans to pursue similar action against Greece and Hungary unless it wants further humiliation."
Latest & next steps
The Commission can now either withdraw its proposal and redraft it or appeal the Council's decision at the European Court of Justice, a process that would take several years.
EU official documents
”¢ Council: Environment Council Meeting press release (18 December 2006) http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/envir/92249.pdf
”¢ Council: Environment Council Conclusions (18 December 2006) http://www.eu2006.fi/news_and_documents/conclusions/vko51/en_GB/1166511048482/
”¢ Council: Environment Council background note (13 December 2006) http://www.eu2006.fi/news_and_documents/council_background_notes/vko50/en_GB/1166024078800/_files/76416558777499793/default/92128.pdf
EU Actors positions
”¢ Friends of the Earth Europe: : EU votes to defy WTO ruling on GM foods (press release 18 December 2006) http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2006/HH_18_Dec_Austia_ban_reaction.htm
”¢ Greenpeace European Unit:: Five Reasons to support Austria's GMO bans (18 December 2006) http://www.greenpeace.eu/downloads/gmo/briefingATbans.pdf
”¢ Reuters: : EU upholds Austria's sovereign right to ban GMOs (18 December 2006) http://today.reuters.com/news/articleinvesting.aspx?view=CN&storyID=2006-12-18T164858Z_01_L18112440_RTRIDST_0_FOOD-EU-GMO-UPDATE-2.XML&rpc=66&type=qcna
”¢ New York Law Journal: EU Rejects Appeal on Biotech Crops (19 December 2006)