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EFSA opinions give Monsanto new Euro confidence

By Jess Halliday , 30-Jun-2009

The European Food Safety Authority has issued positive opinions on the safety of Monsanto’s MON 810 corn trait and Roundup Ready 2 corn product, giving the firm confidence that Europe could become more accepting of genetic modification.

Monsanto’s YieldGuard insect-protected corn trait, known as MON 810, was originally reviewed and approved in 1998 but has remained controversial, with member states France and Germany banning its cultivation. In general, there is a chasm between supporters and opposition to GM crops in Europe, which has thwarted Monsanto’s ambitions in that market.

 

The trait – which is resistant to the corn borer pest – must be reviewed and re-approved every ten years, taking into account the latest scientific findings.

 

According to Monsanto, the new opinion is “favourable”. It says this demonstrates “a strong commitment to science-based decision-making”.

 

The scientific opinion had not been seen by FoodNavigator.com before publication of this article. A spokesperson for EFSA that the opinion has not yet been published and could not confirm its content.

 

EFSA is the EU’s independent risk assessor. While the European institutions are not bound to take its opinions into account, the Commission may now propose renewing the MON 810 approval for cultivation and other uses of conventional corn in the bloc.

 

In 2008 the trait, marketed as YieldGuard, was planted on some 107,000 hectares in seven member states.

 

But in France, Germany, Hungary and Austria the trait has been banned. In April Monsanto filed a law suit against the German government after the cancellation of the planting of 3600 hectares. The trait has been approved in Germany since 2005 but agriculture minister Ilse Aigner claimed she had “legitimate reasons” to believe the maize to be a danger to the environment – and believes the Environment Ministry to agree with the view.

 

A clause in EU law does allow member states to impose such a ban, but Monsanto claims they can only do so once a plant has already been approved if new scientific evidence has come to light.

 

In March European agriculture ministers voted – for the fourth time – not to force Hungary and Austria to lift their bans.

 

Monsanto says completion of the renewal process is a condition of lifting such member state bans.

 

Roundup Ready 2

 

According to Monsanto EFSA has also given a green light that its Roundup Ready Corn 2, which is resistant to the firm’s herbicides, is as safe as conventional corn after spending four years assessing the scientific information.

 

The company said: “Following the positive opinion from EFSA, the European Commission can now draft a proposal for approval for consideration by the Commission’s Regulatory Committee”.

 

“This is an exiting milestone for European farmers and an important step forward in the decision-making process around genetically-engineered crops in the European Union,” said Monsanto’s corn technology leader Dusty Post.

 

Opposition

 

Not everyone is as gleeful about the prospect of more GM crops in Europe, however. Voices opposed to widespread adoption argue that the full effects on the environment and on human health will not be seen for many years to come.