EU GM approval cannot hide widespread opposition

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Today's EU approval of a genetically modified (GM) maize product is
unlikely to bridge immense differences of opinion that exist within
the bloc.

Approved imports of the maize product 1507, jointly made by DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds, is the fifth new GMO approval since the EU ended its informal biotech ban last year.

It is likely to be supported and opposed in equal measure, reflecting the ongoing internal struggle within the EU over the acceptance of GM crops.

According to EuropaBio, the European association for biotech industries, 1507 maize meets all the latest EU regulatory requirements - part of the condition for the termination of the EU moratorium on new GMO approvals - and has been judged by the European Food Safety Authority to be as safe as conventional maize.

The Commission has also been careful to stress the safety of the product.

"Robust post-marketing rules will ensure that the product can be traced and monitored when put on the market,"​ it said in a statement. "Its post-market monitoring will be assured through a unique identifier assigned to the maize to enable its traceability."

But this decision was only reached after ministers were unable to agree among themselves. An obscure facet of the law known as the 'comitology procedure', means that Brussels can actually push through laws if the council has failed to reach a majority decision.

In fact, despite last year's lifting of the GM moratorium, EU countries have not managed to agree by themselves on a GMO approval since 1998.

The Commission has, to date, asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product. But in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock. Luxembourg, Greece and Austria consistently vote against GMO approvals, while the UK, Finland and the Netherlands almost always vote in favour.

Most recently, the EU failed to reach agreement on decisions to approve foods and food ingredients produced from Monsanto's herbicide-resistant maize GM maize GA 21 and MON 863, a transgenic corn used for food engineered by Monsanto to resist the corn rootworm insect.

The EU Agricultural Council also uphold a Greek ban on Monsanto's genetically modified MON 810 corn last week, drawing wrath from the biotech industry.

"Neither the Greek Government nor any of the authorities have provided any validated scientific evidence to support either a ban or withholding approval to use these products in food,"​ said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio.

"Consequently it is disappointing to see the council's lack of support for the law especially as it is was council that put in place the GM rules in the first place."

But it is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable. GM ingredients are regarded with some suspicion by consumers in Europe and as such are used infrequently in food formulations by food manufacturers who do not want to see sales fall.

Related topics: Regulation and safety

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