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England adds criticism to EU's plan for GM cropsqrcode

Mar. 17, 2011

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Mar. 17, 2011

Britain became the latest European Union country in the past week to raise serious doubts over proposals to let EU governments decide individually whether to grow or ban genetically modified (GM) crops.

Several large EU countries including France, Germany and Spain have already criticized draft legislation tabled by the EU executive in July, which would allow governments to restrict or ban GM cultivation in all or part of their territories, reports Reuters.

Britain's farm minister Caroline Spelman questioned whether the proposals would do anything to unblock the EU approval system for GM crops, which has seen just two varieties approved for growing in more than a decade.

A British diplomat said that while there is still no commonly agreed government position on the proposals, ministers feared that the legislation could make things more difficult for countries like the UK that want to press ahead with research into GM crops.

EU government legal experts have questioned whether national GM crop bans provided for in the European Commission's proposals would be compatible with the bloc's global trade commitments.

Spelman agreed that any bans under the proposals were unlikely to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and the EU's own Lisbon Treaty, or stand up to legal challenges from biotech companies, farmers or non-EU countries, Reuters reports.

The British minister also questioned a draft list of reasons that governments could use to justify cultivation bans, such as to maintain public order, which the Commission drew up in response to requests from skeptical governments.

The EU's health and consumer Commissioner John Dalli, who oversaw the drafting of the proposals, replied that the list was non-exhaustive and could be added to and refined by EU governments in subsequent talks.

During the meeting ministers from France, Spain and Italy repeated their opposition the draft rules as they stand. German environment state secretary Katherina Reiche said simply that "we reject the EU Commission's proposals."

With the opposition of any four of the EU's five largest countries sufficient to block the proposals under the bloc's weighted voting system, the Hungarian EU presidency pledged to clarify countries' legal concerns in order to try to reach a compromise.

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