Austria likely to escape EU order to lift GMO bans
By Jeremy Smith Reuters, Dec 14 2006 http://today.reuters.com/news/articleinvesting.aspx?view=CN&storyID=2006-12-14T155415Z_01_L14579570_RTRIDST_0_EU-AUSTRIA-GMO.XML&rpc=66&type=qcna
BRUSSELS, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Austria may escape another order to lift its two bans on genetically modified (GMO) maize varieties as EU ministers prepare to deliver a second rebuff to the European Commission, officials said on Thursday.
Between 1997 and 2000, five EU countries banned specific GMOs on their territory, focusing on three maize and two rapeseed types that were approved shortly before the start of the EU's six-year moratorium on new biotech authorisations.
Last June the Commission, the EU's executive arm, tried to get all the bans scrapped. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also attacked these so-called national safeguards for breaking international trade rules.
But EU environment ministers rejected proposals for the five states -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg -- to remove their restrictions.
Austria is the only country whose GMO bans refer to products still actively marketed. In the other cases, the companies manufacturing the particular GMO products that were the subject of the original bans have withdawn them from the market.
Austria has banned two GMO maize varieties, one in 1997 and the other in 1999. The first ban was against MON 810 maize made by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile , Research) and the second against T25 maize made by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile , Research).
On Monday EU environment ministers will debate a draft Commission order for Austria to lift the bans.
Observers say the order is meant to demonstrate to the complainants in the WTO case -- Argentina, Canada and the United States -- that the Commission is taking action to facilitate more GMO authorisations.
The Commission's problem is that the EU-25 is unlikely to endorse that draft order next week. Privately, Commission officials say a rejection is more likely.
To force Austria to lift its bans, the Commission will need to secure a weighted majority of EU ministers in favour of its draft orders. There can also be a weighted majority against, when the Commission would withdraw the orders and reconsider.
While the positions of nearly all the 25 countries are already known, three states are wavering -- Germany, Portugal and Spain. Under the EU's complex weighted voting system, Germany and Spain carry a lot of influence.
But they are still not expected to vote in favour, so the vote's outcome is almost certain to amount to a rejection of the Commission order.
"It's a question of how close it comes to a rejection," one Commission official said.