New GM rules approved for Europe

The European parliament has approved proposals to tighten the use of genetically modified, or GM, products in an effort to ease consumer concerns and bring the EU up to speed in biotechnology.

The new measures include provisions for the strict labelling and monitoring of GM foods, feeds, seeds and pharmaceuticals. They will also set up a public registry, allowing consumers to trace products.

A moratorium on licensing new GM products has been in place in the EU since 1999. New varieties of the crops have been subject to the ban because of safety fears and public resistance to eating GM foods.

There have been many protests against GM crops across Europe, particularly in France and the U.K.

The new regulations may pave the way for the EU to lift its moratorium, but environmentalists say they are opposed to granting GM licences because they say modified crops could spawn "superweeds" or damage human health.

The new rules enter the process of formal adoption by the Council of Ministers, which is expected to take around 18 months.

Keeping up with the times

British MEP David Bowe, proposed the legislation, saying the vote was necessary if Europe was to hold its own in biotechnology. He says it's necessary to cut through red tape because industry can't wait forever.

He says the new rules will give consumers the confidence that GM products licensed in the EU have met the toughest standards in the world.

Under the new rules, any licences would be conditional on the company providing a risk assessment on the product, and carrying out continuous monitoring of any possible dangers.

More than a dozen licences had been granted before the moratorium came into effect, including four from the U.S. biotech giant Monsanto. A wave of new applications is now expected from Monsanto and others.