EU leaders Thursday stressed the need for more information and experience before further legislation can be passed on genetically-modified organisms, at the end of a two-day conference on GMOs in Vienna.
The path towards GM crops in the EU will remain blocked until legislation is in place
"We should have clear, legal, common regulations (on GMOs) in Europe," Austrian Agriculture Minister Josef Proell said at the closing press conference, but added, "It is too early to sketch the legal framework for common legislation."
The conference, entitled "Freedom of Choice," brought together politicians, scientists, as well as farmers and food producers, to discuss the issue of co-existence, referring to the problems involved in growing both GM and non-GM crops in Europe.
"We are still at an early stage of development of co-existence rules, we have only limited experience with cultivation of GM crops in Europe," said Dirk Ahner, the deputy director-general for agriculture and rural development at the European Commission, explaining why an exchange of information was needed.
More investigations needed before EU is satisfied
More research is needed before laws are passed
"To get out the maximum of the limited knowledge we have it is vital that we share information, research and best practice," he said.
Proell added that the conference was only the first step and the exchange of information would continue. Another conference on GMO policy is to be held in Vienna on April 18-19.
"We're still far from the end of the road," he said. "We need to... identify together where the problems lie and how they could possibly be addressed, only then can one really think about legislation," Ahner said.
Politicians at the conference were keen to stress that the issue of co-existence was not about the ethics or safety of GMOs but they agreed European farmers had the right to choose whether or not to produce GM crops.
Risk of contamination without legislation of use
Without specific legislation however, there is a risk non-GM or organic crops could be contaminated and while the EU says that would have no effect on human health or the environment -- GMOs can only be grown after they have been authorized by the union -- they could have economic consequences for farmers of GM-free crops.
GM foods aren't to everyone's taste
Spain is the only EU country to grow GM crops on a commercial scale, although other countries such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Portugal also cultivate them on a smaller scale.
Several regions have declared themselves GM-free and specific co-existence legislation exists in Denmark, Germany, Portugal and six Austrian provinces but regulations differ throughout the European Union.