The European Parliament has passed two laws that could open the way for EU nations to lift an unofficial ban on genetically modified crops. This is a major trade issue with the United States, whose farmers claim the ban has cost them almost $300 million a year in lost corn exports.
The new laws, expected to be adopted by EU governments before the end of the year, would allow the distribution of genetically modified foods as long as they are clearly labeled. The rules also would force producers to trace genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, at all stages of production.
The new laws require the 15 nations of the European Union to establish their own measures to prevent seeds from farms growing genetically modified crops from blowing into fields of conventional farms.
European consumers fear possible health risks from genetically modified products, but EU Health Commissioner David Byrne insists this is not a concern.
"The purpose of this legislation is to inform about the exact nature and characteristics of the food, to enable them to make informed choices," he said. "The purpose of labeling is not to inform the consumer about the safety or lack of safety of a food. If a food is unsafe, it cannot be placed on the market at all."
The United States has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization in an attempt to have the unofficial EU moratorium on so-called biotech foods lifted.
Washington has also said previously it is unhappy with the new labeling rules and other requirements, which it believes are too costly and restrictive.
Biotech foods come from material that has been genetically modified by scientists to resist insects or disease. Such foods have been widely grown in North America for years.
The European Union imposed its unofficial moratorium on new biotech foods five years ago because of fears by European consumers about possible health risks.
The issue has worldwide implications. Last year, several African nations rejected U.S. food aid because it contained biotech grain, which Africans feared could be used as seed and thereby threaten future exports to the European Union.