Dow Jones Business News
EU Commission Orders 12 EU Govts To Pass Biotech Rules
April 10, 2003

BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- The European Union Commission Thursday ordered 12 European governments to end a five-year-old moratorium on biotech crops, setting up a major intra-European and trans-Atlantic confrontation on the sensitive products.

Under E.U. regulations, national laws on testing and licensing genetically modified organisms should have been enacted by Oct. 17, 2002. But the dozen countries have refused and the Commission now has responded by giving them a two-month deadline.

"I urge member states to quickly bring their national legislation into line," said E.U. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.

Failure to act could prompt the E.U. executive to file a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice. Continued non-compliance could lead to fines.

GMOs are controversial in Europe. Environmentalist groups are campaigning hard against the seeds. They fear crop contamination from one field to another and unknown health risks. Consumers, frightened by numerous food health scandals such as Mad Cow disease, also are skeptical. Politicians are wary of upsetting them.

But the U.S. is pressing hard for the technology, already used by its farmers. It estimates the E.U. moratorium has cost it around $200 million a year in lost corn exports. U.S. lawmakers are urging the administration to file a lawsuit at the World Trade Organization.

Seed companies like Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) and Bayer CropScience AG, part of Bayer AG , are submitting new applications in Europe for genetically modified corn, cotton, canola and other plants.

The E.U.'s head office wants to assuage these U.S. concerns and fears Europe will fall behind in a crucial new technology. Last December, it convinced governments to approve GMOs if they were strictly labeled.

But the governments said they wouldn't act until the European Parliament also agreed. A vote is expected in early July.

-By Matthew Newman, Dow Jones Newswires; 322-285-0133; matthew.newman@dowjones.com