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Europe tough rules { February 14 2001 }

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Europe approves tough GM food rules

February 14, 2001
Web posted at: 2:46 PM EST (1946 GMT)

STRASBOURG, France -- Strict rules governing the marketing and production of genetically modified food have been approved by European politicians.

The European Parliament voted for the new measures, called the "toughest GMO legislation in the world", by 338-to-52 on Wednesday, with 85 abstentions.

But critics fear the move could lead to the end of the EU's three-year-old moratorium on the licensing of such products as early as next year.

The moratorium has been in place in response to protests over a lack of legislation concerning GM products.

Critics did however praise the measures, deeming them as an improved safeguard against potential health and environmental hazards which genetically engineered crops could cause.

Paul Lannoye of Belgium, Green party leader, said: "The new directive goes along the right lines to protect the environment and human health.

"However, it should not be seen by member states as an encouragement to lift the ban on new GMO releases."

The Green faction abstained from voting on the bill.

GM foods face strict labeling
The new rules include stricter labeling and monitoring of genetically altered foods, feeds, seeds and pharmaceutical products.

Under the rules, the implanting of antibiotics in plant genes, which could cause allergic reaction in consumers of the altered product, will be phased out over a period of eight years.

A public registry where consumers can trace genetically modified foods will also be created.

The rules must still be endorsed by the 15 EU governments and parliaments, which may take 18 months.

Officials guaranteed that the moratorium would remain in place in the meantime.

Several EU governments -- notably France, Italy and Greece -- question the safety of genetically modified foods.

It was not immediately clear what would happen if the one of the member nations fails to endorse the legislation.

Genetic engineering in agriculture involves splicing a gene from one organism, such as a bacterium, into a plant or animal to confer certain traits, such as drought tolerance or insect resistance in plants.

Genetically altered foods are highly unpopular in Europe, where a majority of people see them as a health and environmental hazard.

In a statement, Gill Lacroix of Friends of the Earth called the new rules "significant improvements" over current legislation, but are still full of shortcomings.

The statement highlighted the long phase-out period of antibiotics market genes, insufficient protection of organic farmlands from wind-carried GMO seeds and the fact that biotechnology firms are not "liable for any damage caused" by their products.

To date, the EU has approved 18 genetically altered products. In the last three years, EU governments have stopped granting licenses in the face of public health and environment concerns.

Companies producing modified foods -- sometimes termed Frankenstein foods in European media -- are awaiting regulatory approval for several products, including genetically altered corn, rape seed, fodder beets, tomatoes, potatoes and cotton.

Some applications date back to 1996.

BEUC, the European consumers' organisation, welcomed the new bill, but said it should be followed up with legislation that makes producers liable for any damage to the environment from biotech crops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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