French claims that a genetically modified maize product poses a potential health risk have been disputed by a newly published scientific report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The panel on Genetically Modified Organisms concluded that “in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, the provided information package does not present new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810”.
Maize MON810 is the only genetically modified (GM) crop approved in the EU, although not for human consumption. It has been cultivated for animal feed since 1998 and requires a review every ten years.
However, France’s staunch anti-GM stance is seen as a barrier to GM food in Europe. GM advocates have said that its opposition to the technology is impeding innovation and competitiveness in the EU.
A spokesperson for the European Commission told FoodNavigator.com that it would have to “examine the content of EFSA's opinion and will decide on the next steps. A decision will have to be taken through Commitology procedure.”
Although France initially agreed with the 1998 approval, in February this year it invoked a safeguard clause to provisionally prohibit the cultivation of MON810 on its territory. Under Article 23 of EU Deliberate Release Directive (2001/18), an EU member state may suspend European approval of a genetically modified organism (GMO) “if it has been presented with new scientific evidence about its effects on the environment or human health”.
Jean-François Le Grand, chairman of France’s Provisional High Authority on GMO, claimed in January that a scientific report put together by the authority highlighted “serious doubts” about the safety of MON810 and the “negative impact” it could have on flora and fauna.
However, the majority of scientists who worked on the report said that Le Grand had misrepresented their findings, which concluded that further study was needed into the environmental and health impact of the crop.
Nonetheless, the European Commission requested the EFSA’s GMO panel to assess the strength of the French claim. The panel reported that it did not find any new data to support changing its previous risk assessment.
Maize MON810, marketed as YieldGard, is manufactured by US agricultural group Monsanto.
It is engineered to produce a naturally occurring toxin, Bacillus thuringiensis, which has insecticidal properties. It is marketed as a way to save farmers money on insecticides and other pest controls.
Two other EU states have previously banned MON810. Hungary invoked Article 23 in 2005, followed by Greece in 2006. In July this year their claims were dismissed by EFSA as scientifically unsubstantiated.