Mandelson wants to fast-track GM

Peter Mandelson is pressing for new GM foods and crops to be eaten and planted across Europe, even though governments cannot agree on whether to introduce them, top officials from the European Commission have told The Independent on Sunday.

They say that the controversial trade commissioner's department wants to speed up their use, despite widespread public opposition, and is insisting on their being imposed by the Commission on unwilling governments.

The Commission lifted a six-year moratorium on approving new modified foods and crops last year, and biotech firms have been queuing up to have their products officially cleared for use across the Continent.

Two types of GM maize have already been passed for human and livestock consumption over the past year, and more than 30 GM versions of maize, rice, potatoes, sugar beet, soya beans and other foods and crops are awaiting approval.

They are being nodded through by the Commission, over the heads of governments, because ministers cannot agree on whether to approve them. European countries are almost equally split into pro-GM and anti-GM camps, and every time a new product comes before ministers for clearance they are deadlocked. It then passes to the Commission itself for approval, in a procedure denounced by campaigners as "profoundly undemocratic".

Now the Commission's Health and Environment directorates are pressing for the system to be changed to give governments greater control.

Markos Kyprianou, the health and consumer protection commissioner, has also come out against it, and Hervé Martin, head of the biotechnology and pesticides unit in the EU Environment Directorate, says that it is "not sustainable to continue the system". He believes commissioners and governments should meet "before the summer" to work out a better one.

But, Mr Martin adds, the Trade Directorate wants to speed up the approval of more modified crops and products. He says it is insisting on sticking with the present arrangements, even if this means overriding the wishes of some governments.

Michael Meacher, the former UK environment minister, said yesterday: "Having a group of unelected bureaucrats deciding what food should be eaten is fundamentally undemocratic. It is intolerable that they can ride it through roughshod over the objections of member states.

"This is the very kind of thing that the peoples of France and the Netherlands were objecting to in their referendums last week."

Mr Mandelson's office failed to take up the opportunity to comment.