Genetically modified food issues in Europe
Wednesday March 5, 12:12 pm ET

LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - The European Union and United States are in a heated tussle over the EU's unofficial ban on most genetically modified foods, which Washington says breaches World Trade Organisation rules.

The ban, sparked in 1999 by consumer unease over GM technology, is set to be revisited in October in the EU.

Here are some recent key developments:

BRUSSELS, March 5 - Europe's farmers will soon see clear legal guidelines on how to grow genetically modified (GM) crops alongside traditional plants and still control the risk of cross-contamination, the European Commission says.

No form of agriculture should be excluded in the EU and there could be no general ban on GM crop cultivation by using GM-free zones as suggested by some EU member states, it said, adding that farmers should be able to grow the crops they chose.

BRUSSELS, March 4 - The European Union's unofficial ban on most genetically modified (GM) foods will remain at least until October, EU officials say. At a closed meeting, a majority of EU environment ministers reiterated they opposed allowing GM organisms onto their markets until another layer of regulations was in place.

MONTPELLIER, France, Feb 26 - A court orders radical French farmer-protester Jose Bove to spend 10 months in prison for damaging fields of genetically modified (GM) crops in his battle against junk food and globalisation.

The order follows November's failed appeal by Bove against an original 14-month sentence. Only a presidential pardon can now prevent Bove, a media-savvy activist with a trademark walrus moustache, from spending a term behind bars. He spent six weeks in prison last year for smashing up a McDonald's hamburger restaurant.

LONDON, Feb 20 - Britain concedes there are problems surrounding the launch of a public debate on genetically modified crops and it granted more time for the exercise ahead of a decision on growing altered plants commercially. UK farm minister Margaret Beckett said that the debate could now be extended to the end of September from June.

The government has promised to take its views into account before making a decision on the commercial growing of GM crops.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken in favour of GM technology, while Environment Minister Michael Meacher has labelled it unnecessary and said it is difficult to foresee what troubles it may be storing up for future generations.

LONDON, Feb 17 - UK shoppers are worrying less about food safety, including mad cow disease and genetically modified foods, but people are getting more concerned about hygiene at fast food outlets, a survey from the Food Standards Agency shows.

With only months to go before the end of Britain's three-year field-scale trials for gene-spliced crops, worry about GM foods dropped slightly to 36 percent in 2002 from 38 percent in the previous year and 43 percent in 2000, the survey said.

LONDON, Feb 12 - Genetically modified foods and organisms could soon contain DNA bar codes to make it easier for regulators to spot contaminated crops or foods. The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), a charitable company in Cambridge, England, has applied for a patent on the technology.

The technique involves adding a special, harmless sequence of DNA to all GM organisms so a simple test will spot it. A series of additional sequences of DNA with encrypted information about the company or what was done to the product could also be added to provide more data.

LONDON, Feb 11 - Britain may implement new measures to protect organic farmers in the event of their crops being contaminated by genetically modified (GM) varieties, Environment Minister Michael Meacher says.

GENEVA, Feb 5 - The United States expects other farm exporters to join any challenge to the European Union (News - Websites) at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over biotech crops, a senior U.S. official says. Peter Allgeier, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, told reporters Washington was in consultations with potential allies on the timing of any WTO action against the EU's four-year-old moratorium on approval of genetically modified (GM) products.

BRUSSELS, Jan 28 - The European Commission urges the United States to show restraint before launching a trade dispute over biotech foods, saying such a move would only anger sceptical consumers. Washington has made threatening noises about taking its frustrations with a EU moratorium on new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including foods and pharmaceuticals, to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Both sides have fought a war of words or months. Just last week, the EU's overseas aid chief accused the United States of spreading "very negative lies" about Europe's stance on GMOs. Byrne said he had spent considerable time trying to explain the EU's position on GMOs to U.S. government and industry officials, with only limited success.

GEORGETOWN, Grand Cayman, Jan 15 - Planting of biotech crops spread at a double-digit rate for the sixth consecutive year in 2002, an international agriculture group says.

Planting grew 12 percent last year and the global market value of genetically modified crops rose to about $4.25 billion, up from $3.8 billion in 2001, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which promotes GM crops, said in an announcement.

LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Gene-modified crops may help to bring back endangered wildlife such as skylarks and finches, British scientists say. Their research, partly funded by biotechnology giant Monsanto (NYSE:MON - News), suggests that applications of herbicides to gene crop rows rather than the land between them meant insects and weeds could flourish, so providing more food for birds.

PARIS, Dec 17, 2002 - France says it will not back the lifting of an effective ban by the EU on new genetically modified crops until new labelling and traceability laws are in place, which could take until the end of 2003. European Union ministers recently agreed new labelling controls for genetically modified (GM) goods which will have to carry a code identifing the origin of the crops, enabling products to be withdrawn from the food chain if problems arise.

BRUSSELS, Dec 9 - European Union environment ministers agree new controls on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which could eventually lead the 15-member bloc to reopen its markets to GM foods.

The new rules require ships carrying bulk grain to detail exactly what GM products, if any, the shipments contain. The regulation now requires approval by the European Parliament.