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EU challenge to red-green government

The Norwegian authorities have had the full right to decide what we should accept of genetically modified food and feed in Norway. This is what the EU wants to end.


A red-green government is thrown right into a serious strength test with the EU. The European Commission will amend the EEA Agreement on an important point. It will take away from the Norwegian authorities the right to reject genetically modified products approved by the EU. We have such a right today. It was negotiated during the EEA negotiations in 1992.

Contrary to the EEA Agreement

The Vice-President of the European Commission, Günter Verheugen, in a letter to ESA, the EEA Agreement's monitoring body, claims that Norway has an obligation to accept all genetically modified food and feed approved by the EU. According to Verheugen, Norway has no right to assess which genetically modified raw materials will be allowed in food and feed sold on the Norwegian market.

This is a play directly contrary to the EEA agreement between Norway and the EU that the Storting approved in 1992 and 93. In that agreement, we were granted a lasting exception to the EU internal market regulations in one area: The agreement gives us an explicit right to prohibit or restrict the release of genetically modified products even if approved in the EU.

A right no EU country has

The work of the Bondevik Government has had new regulations on control of genetically modified food and feed. It states, among other things, that no genetically modified ingredients are allowed in food and feed without being approved by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. It is these regulations that the European Commission responds to.

The government sent the regulations to the EU in April for so-called "notification", and the EU then had three months to respond. The reaction came only now in September.

As of April 2004, the EU has transferred its own approval scheme to EFSA, the EU's newly created food regulator. Once EFSA has approved a genetically modified product, it can be sold anywhere in the EU. No national authority can review a decision by EFSA.

Therefore, it provokes the EU Commission that outside Norway has such a right to review – a right no EU country has.

A lasting exception in the EEA

We have strict Norwegian regulations for genetic modification in Norway – and thus got a permanent exception in this area in the EEA agreement. The Norwegian Genetic Engineering Act was passed in March 1993 – after the EEA agreement was approved by the Storting – and states, among other things: "Release of genetically modified organisms can only be approved when there is no danger of environmental and health effects". In other words: we can and we will ban everything that may involve danger.

Also with regard to the sale of genetically modified products, public authorities have all responsibility and all power: "The authorities may… prohibit or restrict turnover if in their view it entails a risk to health or the environment, or the turnover is otherwise contrary to the purpose of this Act."

The freedom of action is used

In Annex XX (20) to the EEA Agreement, the EU has approved this Norwegian freedom of action as a permanent exception to the EU regulations. In connection with the EU directive on the release of gene products it states:

"Where a Contracting Party has justified grounds for believing that a product duly notified and given written consent under this Directive constitutes a danger to human health or the environment, it may restrict or prohibit the use and / or sale of the product on its territory. "

This is one of the few points where the EEA Agreement retains Norwegian sovereignty. The Jagland government was the first to use this freedom of action when in September 1997 it set foot for six genetically modified products that the EU wanted us to approve, a corn plant, an oilseed rape, two rabies vaccines, a tobacco plant and a chicory salad. This line has been followed up by other governments later.

Nothing to negotiate

Einar Steensnæs, parliamentary leader of the Christian People's Party, tells the Nation (Sept. 8) that "I do not actually think Norway should bow to this". In the interview, he refers to the EEA agreement's "exemption provisions justified on health, environment and safety". And they could probably also be used. But in this case, the EEA Agreement has not deprived us of any sovereignty. The Norwegian authorities have full discretion to decide which genetically modified products we will allow in Norway.

The Bondevik government should receive full support to hold on to the lasting exception with regard to genetically modified products. Then it is questionable that on Saturday the Nation can announce that the government defines the new regulations as temporary and that they will only apply "to Norway and the other EFTA countries have conducted EEA negotiations with the EU".

If the government adheres to the exception in the EEA agreement, there is nothing to negotiate. The Labor Party, the SV and the Center Party should determine this as soon as possible.

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