By Ray Fleming

YESTERDAY'S proposal by the European Commission that individual member states of the EU should be able to follow their own policy on the use of GM (genetically modified) crops was of much greater potential significance than might at first appear. It was twelve years ago that the Commission concluded that no agreement could be reached between pro-GM and anti-GM countries and that therefore the new biotechnology (developed in the United States and widely used there) should not be approved for use by any EU farmers. GM supporters believe that it can greatly increase agricultural productivity, especially in developing countries; its opponents say that its long-term benefits are unproven and that its use runs the risk of contaminating conventional agriculture practices.The pro-GM countries include Britain, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands; the anti-GM camp numbers Austria, France, Germany and Ireland among its members.

If the Commission's compromise proposal is adopted it will be the first time in the history of the European Union that a major policy decision binding on all member states will have been reversed and power returned to individual countries.

The implications for such a reversal are huge -- a point being made by Spain which, while wanting the policy changed, believes it should be done only with full EU-member agreement. Even if the Commission gets its way, individual governments, especially in Britain, will face strong continuing anti-GM pressure.

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