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EU ban lifted on genetically modified foods

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Chronology of EU's ban on gene crops and foods
Reuters, 05.19.04, 5:26 AM ET

BRUSSELS, May 19 (Reuters) - The European Union ended its controversial ban on genetically modified foods on Wednesday as its executive body authorised imports of a biotech maize, the first new EU approval in more than five years.

Following is a short history of the European Union's unofficial moratorium on authorising new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a policy that has been challenged in the World Trade Organisation.

The EU has not allowed experimental or commercial growth of any new gene crops since 1998, or the imports of new GMO-based food products. Before this time, 18 biotech plant were approved, including maize, rapeseed, chicory and soybeans.


APRIL 1998 - EU's last approvals of new GMO food products.

OCTOBER 1998 - EU authorises two biotech carnation varieties (to improve vase life and modify flower colour), the last live GMO plants to win EU approval. The United States sees this as the point where the EU closes its doors to new GMOs -- at this time, 18 GMOs are authorised for commercial release in the bloc.

JUNE 1999 - France and Greece lead calls for de facto moratorium on new GMO approval at meeting of EU environment ministers and win backing from Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg.

They are later joined by Belgium and Austria, forming a minority of EU states that can block any vote on a new approval.

JANUARY 2000 - European Commission adopts regulation that additives and flavourings have to be labelled if DNA or protein of GMO origin is present in the final product.

JUNE 2000 - French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet insists on the need for a liability scheme for biotech products.

JULY 2000 - EU environment ministers say they will support the moratorium at least until proposals are presented for labelling and tracing GMO content in biotech products.

JULY 2001 - European Commission presents labelling and traceability proposals.

OCTOBER 2002 - Updated "deliberate release" directive enters into force, regulating the release of live GMOs into the environment. This repeals previous legislation dating from 1991.

The updated directive sets down a step-by-step approvals process for GMOs or products containing GMOs, and tightens controls on traceability and labelling.

MAY 2003 - United States announces its intention to file a complaint against the EU's unofficial ban on GMOs at the World Trade Organisation.

JULY 2003 - EU adopts strict rules on labelling and tracing all GMO food and feed which apply in all member states from mid-April 2004. The labelling threshold for GMO content in non-GM food is set at 0.9 percent.

JULY 2003 - European Commission issues guidelines on how to grow and separate GMO crops in Europe's fields to minimise the spread of GMOs to organic and conventional crop cultivation.

AUGUST 2003 - United States, Canada and Argentina challenge the EU over its de facto moratorium on GMOs at the WTO, arguing that the ban is illegal and without any scientific foundation.

SEPTEMBER 2003 - European Commission rejects a request by the regional government of Upper Austria to ban the cultivation of GM crops and create a GMO-free zone.

OCTOBER 2003 - European Commission delays debate on its proposed seed purity rules setting GMO content in conventional and organic seeds after EU states demand stricter safety checks.

The proposed thresholds range from 0.3 to 0.7 percent.

NOVEMBER 2003 - Government of Upper Austria says it will challenge Commission's ruling on its proposed GMO-free zone at the Court of First Instance -- the EU's second highest court.

NOVEMBER 2003 - EU food safety committee fails to agree on proposal to authorise imports of Bt-11 sweet maize, a GMO food whose seeds are made by Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta .

JANUARY 2004 - European Commission approves Bt-11 maize proposal, giving EU ministers three months to consider the issue and reach a final decision.

FEBRUARY 2004 - EU environment experts fail to agree to allow imports of NK603 maize, made by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto , for use in animal feed. The matter passes to EU ministers who have three months to debate the proposed approval.

APRIL 2004 - EU's updated laws on GMO traceability and labelling in food and feed come fully into effect.

APRIL 2004 - EU ministers lose last chance to approve or reject application to authorise Bt-11, debate ends in deadlock. Application passes to Commission for a rubberstamp approval, effectively ending EU moratorium on new GMO foods.

APRIL 2004 - EU food safety experts fail to agree to allow imports of NK603 maize for its use in processed products for human consumption. Issue again passes to EU ministers with a three-month discussion period.

MAY 2004 - Draft Commission proposal setting GMO content in conventional and organic seeds is leaked by green groups. The proposed thresholds range from 0.3 to 0.5 percent.

MAY 2004 - EU Commission ends de facto ban by authorising imports of Bt-11 maize for sale on supermarket shelves as canned sweetcorn.

Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service

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