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Poland may not ban genetically modified plants

(January 23, 2008) Poland must allow the cultivation of genetically modified plants approved in the EU. The European Commission has rejected a draft law on genetically modified organisms (GMO) that would have restricted any plantings to designated zones and placed additional requirements on the use of GMO seeds. According to the Commission, Poland did not provide any new scientific evidence to justify the national measure in reference to the protection of the environment or the working environment. Consequently, the ban cannot be based on the "safeguard clause" foreseen in the EU law. Reports from Polish media indicate the willingness of the newly elected centre-right government to ease its stance over biotechnology.

In April 2007, Poland had notified the Commission of its plan to prohibit the planting of genetically modified plants by law. Any cultivation would be obliged to take place within designated zones. After application and the subsequent solicitation of the responsible municipal council, such zones could have been established by governmental decision. Comprehensive obligations also were foreseen in the case of a deliberate release for experimental purposes. The draft act foresaw a risk assessment and technical documentation, as well as written declarations of consent from neighbouring farmers. In rationalising such measures, the government made reference to the small structured agricultural land-use in Poland. The country has almost two million farms and the average area of a single farm is less than 8 hectares. Given this level of fragmentation, the isolation of GM from conventional and organic crops was assessed by the government as impossible.

Comparing the Polish act with the EU Directive on the deliberate release, the Commission concluded that the national measures are more restrictive. In accordance with EU law, experimental releases are not subject to the consent of any third party such as neighbouring farmers. Furthermore, without entitling any Member State to adopt a general ban of the cultivation or any other use of a genetically modified organism, the provisions of the EU Directive indicate that the cultivation of a GMO can be prohibited only on a case-by-case basis. Poland did not refer to new scientific studies, literature or other possible findings indicating new evidence concerning the protection of the environment or the working environment. The Commission's decision was dated as October 12th, 2007 but was not published in the Official Journal until Monday, 21th January, 2008.


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