EP Daily News, 24 September 2002
Report on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation on the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms
MEPs voted 264 to 200 with 47 abstentions in favour of the Commission's proposal to adhere to the Cartagena Protocol regulating the cross-border movement of Genetically Modified Organisms, together with a number of amendments. The Protocol does not deal with the movement of GMOs within the EU but is concerned with the export of GMOs to third countries.
Amendments take up the following issue -
Commissioner Margot WALLSTRÖM opened the debate on the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The draft regulation is based on the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety. Its aim is to provide a framework for international trade in GMOs. The Commission has recently brought forward a proposal for ratification, and the necessary legislative process is under way. The Protocol will come into force when fifty countries have ratified it.
The Commissioner stressed the importance of the ratification of the protocol, as the EU is the largest exporter of GMOs. She also emphasised the importance of the draft regulation for developing countries as a means of protecting human health as it contains many safety measures. The legislation once in place would bind Member States to notify and identify GMOs when they are being exported. The new legislation would not require large amounts of resources as existing legislation and legislative proposals on traceability and labelling would cover much of what is included in the regulation.
Jonas SJÖSTEDT (EUL/NGL, S) stated that the Cartagena Protocol was based on the precautionary principle and was particularly important in the light of the WTO. The WTO, he said, regulates the markets on the export of GMOs and he hoped that the EU would ratify the bio-safety protocol as soon as possible. The Commission's proposals lacked clarity he remarked, especially in the area of export liability. One amendment from the Environment Committee, he said, made it clear that if a product was not approved in the EU then it would not be allowed for export. He continued by saying that it was axiomatic that no export should ever be made without the express consent of the importing country's authorities. He ended by saying that he could accept all the amendments proposed by the other political groups.
Speaking for the Agricultural Committee, Emilia MÜLLER (EPP-ED, D) emphasised that the aim of the proposal was for the EU to accept international regulations to regulate the trade, release and handling of GMOs and it particularly affected exports to third countries. The result should be legal security with less bureaucracy. She did, therefore, reject any attempt by the Environment Committee or others to add on an extra dimension to the legislation to include, for example, issues such as liability. She underlined the fact that the development of GMOs in research laboratories, i.e. products that were not released into the environment did not pose any threat to biodiversity.
For the EPP/ED, Renate SOMMER (D), endorsed the Commission's proposal, emphasising the importance of taking a pragmatic approach to the issue. In this sense, she too felt it would be wrong to use the proposal as a basis to expand legislation into what she termed 'grey areas'. She felt that liability was a separate issue best dealt with elsewhere. She emphasised, however, that it was important to control field tests but at the same time leave the door open to more research. A restrictive approach, she warned, would only lead to scientists leaving Europe and carrying out their activities elsewhere. She urged the House to support amendments designed to prevent this.
For the PES, Torben LUND (DK) emphasised the need to establish the highest possible levels of protection based on the 'precautionary principle' and to resist what he termed 'aggressive marketing' from U.S. companies. It was also important to help developing countries to establish high standards and adopt a pragmatic approach to the question. In this sense, he drew attention to the element in the proposal which obliges recipient countries to agree to any exports. He concluded by emphasising the need to establish tough and uniform penalties across the EU for any breach of legislation.
For the ELDR, Dirk STERCKX (B, ), in endorsing the proposal, too emphasised the need for uniform enforcement of the legislation across the EU. At the same time, Europe should not be isolated from progress in the development of GMOs, research should be encouraged with few obstacles put in place. There should be no new unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and developing countries should be helped to evaluate products. At the same time, he recognised that traceability was a difficult issue.
For the GUE/NGL, Laura GONZÁLEZ ÁLVAREZ (E) in lending her support to the proposal, emphasised that it should not lead to any distortion of trade and that the EU's response should be proportionate. She, therefore, underlined the importance of international rules, the role of recipient countries and the need to ensure that there was no threat to biodiversity.
For the Greens, Hiltrud BREYER (D ) welcomed the approach of the Environment Committee in attempting to strengthen the legislation. It was she said important to stand up to the USA and not lift the present moratorium. Developing countries such as Somalia should not be forced to accept food aid containing GMO material. She, therefore, supported proposals relating to the identification of products with GMOs and liability, looking forward to action on these issues as the next step in he process.
For the EDD, Hans BLOKLAND (NL), on the other hand, urged a responsible approach to the question of exports. The issue should not be demonised, he felt, urging the establishment of proper labelling rules. At the same time, efforts should be made to guard against any unwanted release of GMOs into the environment.
John PURVIS (EPP-ED, Scotland), on the other hand, in emphasising the importance of the biotechnology industry and the need for it to be backed by the EU's research programme, regretted that it had not been possible for the Industry Committee to present an opinion on the issue. He, therefore, urged the House to reject attempts by the Environment Committee to extend the scope of the legislation, especially by what he felt was the introduction of unnecessary bureaucracy. If the EU was to fulfil the Lisbon goal, of becoming the most dynamic economy in the world then research programmes into areas such as the development of GMOs needed to be backed . There should be no unnecessary restrictions placed on the industry or a 'disproportionate' approach taken to the question.
Jill EVANS (Greens/EFA, Wales) welcomed the Environment's Committee position which tightens up the Commission proposals. Mrs Evans was pleased that the draft regulation covers food and feed. She regarded the ratification of the Bio-safety protocol as a minimum but was particularly concerned about the right of choice for developing countries. She was also concerned that among other countries, Mozambique, Zambia and more recently Bolivia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua had been forced to accept food aid containing GMOs.
Replying to the debate, the Commissioner remarked that the benefits of new bio-technology should always be balanced with the aim of preserving and enriching bio-diversity and human health. The Commission, she said, would be extremely active in the field of bio-technology. With regard to the moratorium and food aid, the Commissioner said that this was not the appropriate time to comment on this as it would require more parliamentary time.