EU Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms came into effect yesterday [Thursday]. The Directive opens the way for biotech companies to apply for approval for their products, but the US remains sceptical that the new rules will really facilitate market access.

Speaking on behalf of the EU Commission, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said the Commission considered that it had fulfilled its commitment to create the conditions to restart the authorisation procedure for GMOs, and that it was ready to play its role in managing the new procedure.

However, some Member States have already said more rules are needed, and that they are not prepared to give any new GM products the go-ahead until further labelling rules are enforced. "There are no reasons to lift the moratorium while the traceability and labelling laws are not in place," a senior French source told Reuters.

The US has welcomed the implementation of the new rules but remains sceptical that they will actually accelerate the acceptance of genetically modified foods in Europe. US Trade Representative Richard Mills commented: "While we appreciate today's announcement by the European Commission, it remains unclear whether it will lead to any real change."

Mills went on to say: "The EU's...moratorium on approving biotech foods is illegal under both EU and international law" and called on the EU to give "an immediate, unconditional and unambiguous statement that the biotech approvals process is restarting now."

Certain EU member states including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg are fighting to make the rules on GM food even tougher than is currently the case.