EU health chief sees no move on GMO zero tolerance

NICOSIA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - The European Union’s health chief on Thursday said he could not see an easing of legislation now keeping genetically modified crops out of the bloc, saying such changes would not gain approval among its members.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou acknowledged there was potential that a “zero tolerance” approach toward unauthorised GMO strains could affect feed imports, but said better understanding from the biotech industry on the GMO concerns within the union could help.

“The mood among the member states is such that I believe there will be no possibility of reaching a qualified majority to amend legislation,” Kyprianou told Reuters after delivering a speech in Cyprus.

“I have some doubts whether this should be our proposal ... it is moot question because even if we did (propose an amendment) it would not receive a qualified majority.”

The EU has not approved any new GMOs for growing since 1998, in large part because of huge public resistance to what are sometimes called “Frankenstein foods.”

European Union member states discussed the GMO issue on Monday. Kyprianou said the debate focused on whether member states would be ready to accept moving away from zero tolerance for those GMOs which have received a positive assessment from the European Food Safety Authority but have not completed the authorisation process yet.

“It is very important to try to coordinate with the industry and with producing countries, to take more into consideration our sensitivities, our legislation and our authorisation process,” Kyprianou said.

Pressure has been rising for the Commission to do something about the speed at which the EU approves new GMOs. The EU last month authorised imports of four GMO crop products for sale across its 27 national markets for the next 10 years.

An internal study published by Commission agriculture experts in June said the EU took a minimum of 2-1/2 years, and often longer, to complete new GMO authorisations compared with an average of 15 months in the United States.

Kyprianou said the approval process was “very thorough” rather than slow. “Many of the delays are also a responsibility of the industry itself ... the authorities ask for more information and it takes a long time for the industry to provide that information,” he said.

“What we will do, as part of an action plan, is to make it more clear to the industry what is expected from them from the beginning so they can produce more detailed and complete dossiers when they should,” he said. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)