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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EC Bids Block on Biotech Illegal, Pushes for Solution

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Commission said Thursday that its current moratorium on new GM crops was illegal and proposed kick-starting its stalled approval process.

The Commission plans to apply tough new rules for the labeling and traceability of genetically modified, or GM, crops once they are passed by EU governments and the European parliament but before they legally take effect.

This could be as soon as the end of the year and would avoid waiting for the legislation to be transposed into national laws, which can take a further two years.

The EU's authorization process for GM crops has been in deadlock since mid-1998, when environment ministers imposed a de facto moratorium on new approvals until new laws were drafted.

"We have already waited too long to act. The moratorium is illegal and not justified," said European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.

The environment ministers' decision f more tacit agreement than legislative change f had created legal uncertainty because existing laws requiring the EU to examine applications to clear GM crops remained on the statute books.

Wallstrom said this had left the Commission open to a challenge from companies concerned by the indecisiveness of the European Court of Justice.

Since 1992 some 18 GM products have been approved for commercial use in the EU. There are 14 applications pending under the old legislation but none have been authorized since 1998.

The blockage has particularly angered the United States, the world's major GM crop grower, as well as the biotech industry, which have both accused the EU of being slow to act.

Washington regards the biotechnology issue as a major transatlantic trade dispute, outweighing even the other rows it has with Brussels over bananas and hormone-treated beef.

Public confidence in GM crops was further dented by the recent discovery of unapproved strains being grown unknowingly in several EU countries.