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EU maintains moratorium on modified foods

(Oct. 30, 2001 CropChoice news) The European Unions three-year moratorium on the importation and cultivation of any new transgenic crops will remain. That was the decision on Monday in Luxembourg after environment ministers from many member states spoke against European Commission plans to restart the licensing of genetically modified seeds and crops.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom warned that such a move could push the United States to make good on its threat to take the matter to the World Trade Organization where it would argue that the ban inhibits free trade.

Since 1998, France and five other EU member governments have helped to maintain the moratorium; they want to see much more stringent rules on testing, labeling and tracking of products with transgenic ingredients.

Although the Commission proposed a strict labeling and tracing legislation, which U.S. government and corporate agriculture officials immediately said would restrain trade, member governments have yet to approve it. The Commission would like to lift the moratorium with the understanding that the labeling protocol would come later.

In both cases, the Commission fears a legal suit. The biotech companies could sue through the World Trade Organization in order to force the Commission to overrule the national governments and approve the genetically modified organisms for use all over the European Union. The alternative could have equally litigious side effects. Were the member governments to lift the moratorium and then approve the labeling and tracking legislation, the United States could sue to overturn the law on grounds of trade restraint.