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EU cracks down on illegal GM grain

21-Apr-2005

Forcing the traceability card, the European Union has voted to block imports of certain US grain unless they prove to be free of the genetically modified maize Bt10.

The move comes after Swiss biotech firm Syngenta recently announced it had accidentally sold unapproved genetically modified seed corn in the US for four years, resulting in about 133 million kilograms of the corn making its way into the food chain.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has said it thought about 1,000 metric tons of the unauthorised strain of Bt10 corn, all grown in the US, had entered member states through animal feed, corn flour and corn oil. As a result Syngenta has been fined $375,000 by the US Department of Agriculture for mistakenly selling the Bt10 strain.

 

In a bid to stem the flow of any further consignments of the illegal Bt10 GM ingredient into the European food chain, last Friday the Commission passed emergency measures.

 

These specify that imports of corn gluten feed and brewers grain from the USA can only be placed on the EU market if they are accompanied by an "analytical report by an accredited laboratory which demonstrates the product does not contain Bt10."

 

Between 2001 and 2004, Syngenta accidentally sold Bt 10 corn, mistaking it for the variety Bt 11, approved for food and feed use imports into the EU.

 

Both varieties produce a bacterial toxin that kills insects, using the same inserted gene and producing the same protein. The only difference is the location of the inserted gene, Syngenta claims.

 

Syngenta says it discovered the mistake when it switched to a new quality control system that tests for DNA directly. Previously it had tested only for proteins, which meant the two varieties appeared identical.

 

Experts believe that the block could put an end to the sale of Sygenta's GMO seed corn sales in Europe as there is currently no means of specifically screening for Bt10.

 

That testing failed to detect an illegal sweetcorn present in the food chain for the past four years will do little to reassure the already GM cynical European consumer.

 

Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the emergency measures but warned that Europe "remains exposed to high-risk imports of illegal GMOs, in wheat, rice, soybeans and rape seed, as well as maize."

 

Last week the group revealed that batches of rice in China had been contaminated with GM rice that is not authorised anywhere in the world. Greenpeace underlined that China exports 18,000 tonnes of rice to the EU every year.

 

But building up trans-Atlantic relations, this week Markos Kyprianou will be in the US to discuss a broad range of issues with his US counterparts. In light of Friday's announcement, GMOs will certainly feature high on the agenda.

 

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