European Rules for Biotech Foods

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

European officials have approved new rules on the production and marketing of food developed through genetic engineering. Reports say the approval could lead to the end of a European ban on new biotechnology products.

The European Parliament approved the rules last month. Parliament member David Bowe of Britain proposed the new measures. He calls them the strongest biotechnology rules in the world. To become law, the fifteen European Union member countries still must approve the rules. That process may take eighteen months.

The new rules include stronger supervision of genetically changed food, seeds and drug products. They also require governments to keep public records of where such crops are grown.

Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things. The changed gene directs the plant to do things it normally does not do. For example, the treated plants may produce more crops. Or they may resist harmful insects. This reduces the need for farmers to use chemicals to kill insects.

The use of genetic engineering in agriculture has been debated around the world in recent years. The United States Food and Drug Administration, many American farmers and agriculture companies say such crops are safe. But many people in the United States and other countries disagree.

Some countries have closed their markets to American farm products because of concerns about genetic engineering. There have been large protests against biotechnology crops across Europe.

Officials in several European Union countries question the safety of biotechnology products. The E-U has approved permits for fewer than twenty such products. In the past three years, European officials stopped approving permits because of concerns about public health and the environment. Companies producing such foods are waiting for approval of several products.

Environmental activists have warned the E-U against ending the ban on new biotechnology products.

One group, Friends of the Earth, says the measures approved by the European Parliament will not help the public, farmers or the environment.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English