GM Crop Data Must be Released to Public, European Court Says | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.02.2009
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GM Crop Data Must be Released to Public, European Court Says

The EU's highest legal body, the European Court of Justice, has ruled that the public must have access to information about location of genetically modified crops. It's the latest decision on a very controversial issue.

Monsanto Research laboratory

The MON810 strain of corn officially approved by the EU is the product of the Monsanto company

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg handed down the ruling on Tuesday, February 17 in a case that has been going on for nearly five years.

"The right of public access to information applies to releases of genetically modified organisms," the ECJ said in its decision. "The information relating to the location of the release can in no case be kept confidential."

In April 2004, French citizen Pierre Azelvandre asked local authorities in his home region of Alsace to provide a list of where GM field trials had taken place and where future ones were planned.

The authorities refused, arguing that the release of such information could potentially endanger public order.

But the ECJ's ruling means that EU citizens now have a right to know where experimental crops are being tried out.

Bans upheld

A contamination symbol carved in a field of genetically engineered corn

Activists have themselves identified suspected GM crop locations

In a related development on Monday, the European Commission failed in a bid to force the governments of France and Greece to allow genetically modified corn to be grown in their countries.

The MON810 strain of corn is the only GM crop officially approved by the EU, but both Athens and Paris have suspended its cultivation.

When put to a vote of experts, only nine of the EU 27's member states supported the commission's call for those two national bans to be lifted.

"We are in the middle of a process," the Commission's Environmental spokesperson, Barbara Helferich, said. "The regulatory committee, which could have made a decision, came to a vote that was neither for nor against.

The expert evidence will now be handed on to EU ministers at the national level for further consideration.

The European Food Safety Authority has said that the genetically modified corn is safe, and that there is no scientific evidence to support the bans.

But many EU citizens remain sceptical about genetically modified food, and the Green Party, in particular is fighting to allow countries the right to ban it.

On March 2, EU environmental ministers will vote on whether to ask Austria and Hungary to lift bans similar to those in place in France and Greece.

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