The European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess the safety of foods and food ingredients derived from Monsanto's MON 863 and its hybrid MON 863xMON 810 maize as well as to determine whether the introduction of these ingredients into the food chain could harm the consumer or the environment. The findings from the GMO panel place a question mark over MON 863xMON 810 maize.
"The GMO panel was divided over the need for specific data confirming the safety assessment of the hybrid maize MON 863xMON 810," said Dr. Harry Kuiper, chair of EFSA's GMO panel, adding that the scientists have called for an additional 90-day animal study in order to provide 'further reassurance regarding the safety of the hybrid maize'.
The positive assessment of the MON 863 maize is the third to be issued by EFSA. In its first biotech food assessment in December the authority gave the all clear to another Monsanto product, a herbicide-resistant GM maize type known as NK603. In March it issued a similar opinion on Monsanto's GT73 rapeseed.
The green light on safety for a handful of GM maize types could herald change as the Commission seeks to end Europe's unofficial six year ban on new genetically modified foodstuffs.
The moratorium will be under the spotlight next Monday when farm ministers from the EU block meet to debate the authorisation of Bt-11, a GM maize concocted by Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta. If the ministers clear the maize for entry into the food market but not for growing, the de facto moratorium - slated by the US as an illegal barrier to trade that sent it running to a World Trade Organisation dispute panel - would be lifted.
The 15 EU-bloc countries are split on the sensitive issue and a deadlock is likely between the farm ministers. But under the convoluted rules that govern European law, the Commission has the legal power to push through the authorisation, heralding in an end to the ban.