Strasbourg, France — The European Union Parliament on Wednesday ratified a three-year-old United Nations biosafety protocol that regulates international trade in genetically modified food.
The protocol lets countries ban imports of a genetically modified product if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence the product is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton.
The EU Parliament's move opens the way for EU governments to give the U.N. accord, negotiated three years ago in Montreal, legal effect throughout the 15-nation bloc later this month.
To date, only Denmark, Austria, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands have ratified the U.N. agreement. Other nations first wanted the protocol to have the blessing of the EU.
The United States, a major producer of biotech crops, did not sign the protocol, saying it was opposed to labeling. It had also fought import bans.
EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom praised the assembly's decision. She said it "confirms that determination of the EU to fully implement the biosafety protocol."
The U.N. protocol is expected to come into force in the autumn. Fifty nations have to ratify the agreement which was signed by 103 countries. Only 49 have so far done so.
Jonas Sjoestedt, a Swedish Left member of the EU assembly, said the protocol's endorsement by the European Parliament will help the EU counter critics that Europe does not want to deal with genetically altered crops.
"The new rules make clear that trade in GMO's, which are products of a recently developed technology and may carry dangers to human health or the environment, must be based on the precautionary principle."
That principle lets developing nations balance public health against economic benefits and lets them ban food containing GMO's from entering their country.
"This legislation should help the EU to counter recent accusations by the U.S administration that the EU is to blame for the African rejection of GM food aid last year," Mr. Sjoestedt said.
"By agreeing these strict new rules, the EU is helping to empower importing countries to choose whether they will accept GM imports."