EU member states have for the third time snubbed the European Commission by backing a national ban on genetically modified maize products - in this case Hungary - which Brussels says is against international trade rules.
EU environment ministers on Tuesday (20 February) upheld with a qualified majority a Hungarian ban on GM maize although the crop was authorised by the commission in 1998.
Hungary has placed a temporary ban on the use and sale of the MON 810 maize, saying there has not been enough testing on the effects of the GMO.
One Hungarian ministry official said that new studies had shown the GM maize reduced the fertility of the soil where is was planted.
The commission however is pointing to research by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has found there is no reason to believe the GMO product poses any risk to human health or the environment.
EU environment ministers in June 2005 and December 2006 rejected similar commission proposals to force Austria to lift its 1999 and 2000 bans on T25 maize (made by German chemicals firm Bayer) and MON 810 maize (produced by US biotech giant Monsanto).
The Austrian government based its stance on the fact that no long term health safety tests have been done and that GMO maize imports would likely lead to the accidental spillage of the seed into the environment.
Since the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled last year that EU nations broke trade rules by stopping imports of GMOs, the commission has been under pressure to remove member states' GMO bans.
One commission official said Brussels is determined to push its line, adding that taking the issue to the European Court of Justice could be one of the options.
'RELIGIOUS' GMO DEBATEMeanwhile, Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard on Tuesday called for a "less religious" and a "more enlightened" European debate on GMOs.
"Whether we like it or not, GMOs are here to stay," she said at a Brussels debate organised by the Danish environment ministry and the Friends of Europe think-tank.
"We should move away from the more religious way of handling this because that is the way forward to try to fill the knowledge gap," she said pleading for a better exchange of information.
Ms Hedegaard said the EU should also look at how it could help improve the situation of food security in the third world, promoting a more ethical GMO industry there than the one run by big US biotech firms.