Twelve out of the 15 European Union Member States could soon face court action should they continue to ignore EU legislation on genetically modified crops.
The Commission yesterday formally warned France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Finland that national laws on testing and licensing genetically modified organisms should have been enacted by 17 October 2002. Failure to implement the new rules within the next two months could prompt the EU executive to file a lawsuit against all rebelling parties at the European Court of Justice.
"I urge Member States to quickly bring their national legislation into line with the new agreed EU framework for regulating the release of GMOs into the environment," said Margot Wallström, Environment Commissioner.
The new legislation, passed in a bid to appease the cynical European consumer who is extremely wary of GM foods, sets the rules which companies need to follow if they want to get authorisation to introduce GM organisms (GMOs) such as crops or food ingredients onto the EU market, with strict rules on testing for environmental and health risks.
The new directive revised the original framework, passed in 1990, that regulated the release of GMOs, itself established in response to concerns that the release of GMOs might lead to irreversible damage to the environment.
The issue of genetically modified crops, and further down the production line, genetically modified foods, is not only emotive, but also monetary. European consumers have so far resisted the appearance of GM crops into the human food chain. But farming bodies in the United States, where GM crops grow, have been lobbying for greater access to the EU market.
In a bid to assuage US concerns and to stop Europe from falling behind in this new technology, last December the Commission proposed new legislation on tighter labelling and traceability of GM crops. The move was set to pave the way to the end of the five-year moratorium in Europe that has stopped all new GM crops from being allowed to take seed. But the governments said they would not act until the European Parliament also agreed. A vote is expected in early July.
The two month deadline will quickly pass - will the 12 states acquiesce? Or will consumer feeling continue to influence their decisions?