ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
21 March 2003


"GOVERNMENT officials have confirmed that this summer's debate on GM crops will not influence whether they are grown in the UK."  (Farmers'Weekly Interactive 19 March 2003) - item 1

"In a setback to biotech companies, Europe's top legal adviser Thursday upheld Italy's right to ban genetically modified corn flour." - item 2



Friends of the Earth Press  Release
Immediate release: Thurs 20th March

The credibility of the independent public debate on the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) food and crops is in the balance following today's open meeting of the Debate Steering Board [1].

Members of the Debate Steering Board expressed concern at the meeting that a DEFRA private briefing of media correspondents earlier in the week (Tues 18th March) had resulted in articles stating that:

"GOVERNMENT officials have confirmed that this summer's debate on GM crops will not influence whether they are grown in the UK."  (Farmers'Weekly Interactive 19 March 2003)

Chairman of the debate steering board Professor Malcolm Grant said he had written to DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett to seek "reassurance that we are not wasting our time".

Other members expressed concern that if decisions on commercialising GM crops were made in the run up or during the debate, the credibility and value of the debate in the eyes of the public would be seriously damaged.  The principle aim of the GM debate clearly included consideration of whether GM food and crops should be grown commercially in the UK [2].

There are currently 19 applications submitted through the EU (two to the UK) for commercial marketing consents for GM seeds.  The UK is required to give an opinion on all of them in a rigid time-scale set down by EC Directive.  This means that the UK has to say yes or no to each application during the debate.  However, the Government can ask for more information on the applications which would delay the decision making process.

Friends of the Earth real food campaigner Pete Riley said:

"The public credibility of the GM public debate is hanging by a thread.  The Secretary of State must make an unequivocal statement that the Government will listen to the views of the public, as gathered through the GM Public Debate, before making a decision on the commercialisation of GM. Otherwise the Debate Steering Committee are right to think they are wasting their time.  Ministers must also provide an assurance that they will not give an opinion on any application until after the debate. Failure to provide such assurances will seriously undermine the whole debate in the eyes of the public". ENDS

1.  Meeting of the GM Public Debate Steering Board held at the
Instutute of Civil Engineers, Thursday 20th March,10.30am
2. The principal aim of the GM public debate is to:

"Promote an innovative, effective and deliberative programme of debate on GM issues, framed by the public, against the background of the possible commercial production of GM crops in the UK and the options for possibly proceeding with this. Through the debate, provide meaningful information to Government about the nature and spectrum of the public's views, particularly at grass roots level, to inform decision-making."

Pete Riley   07712 843 210


EU Legal Adviser OKs Italy's Right To Ban Modified Flour

Thursday March 13, 10:06 am ET
Dow Jones Business News

BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- In a setback to biotech companies, Europe's top legal adviser Thursday upheld Italy's right to ban genetically modified corn flour.

Advocate General Siegbert Alber said the ban can continue on GM products made by Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) , Syngenta AG and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. (X.PNB). But he cautioned that Italy still must provide new, detailed evidence of the products' suspected risks.

The decision is likely to cause further frustration for U.S. officials. For the past four years, European Union (News - Websites) countries have imposed a moratorium at the national level on importing GM foods and seeds. Top U.S. trade official Robert Zoellick (News) has called the countries' approach "immoral" and "Luddite" and the U.S. administration is considering bringing suit at the World Trade Organization.

The U.S. estimates the European moratorium has cost it around $200 million a year in lost corn exports.

In Europe, individual governments must approve GM seeds and foods before they can be imported and used by farmers and processors. Many GM seeds and foods remain banned by individual countries, even though the European Union Commission (News) is fighting to end the moratorium.

The latest legal opinion upholds a country's right to block GM seeds and foods when danger is suspected.

The case dates back to August 2000, when Italy outlawed the flour. Since the U.K. and France already had approved the products, the companies involved said Italy's fears were overdone.

But Italy said the flour could pose dangers to health and the environment. The companies appealed, and an Italian court sent the case to E.U. judges for further guidance.

The biotech industry played down the significance of Thursday's decision, calling it only a minor legal setback. Europabio, a pro-GM industry group, said it believed Italy would repeal its ban and still needed to present evidence showing why it shouldn't follow the U.K. and French in approving the flour.

"Italy didn't present truly new evidence," said Simon Barber of Europabio. " We're confident these kinds of bans only will be upheld when real evidence comes to light."

The decision is preliminary, but the advocate general's opinion is followed in about 80% of cases by the full court. A final decision on the case is expected later this year.

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