Europe's food agency clears first GM sweetcorn for cultivation

Related tags Gm Genetically modified food

Current divisions in Europe over biotech food ingredients
strengthened last week after the Union's food watchdog paves the
way for the cultivation of a GM maize after the first ever risk
assessment for the cultivation of a GM crop,reports Lindsey

Inciting strong criticism from environmental groups, the panel of scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) cleared the maize for cultivation, known as 1507, made jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen seeds.

While EFSA has issued a series of opinions on whether to allow imports of GM food ingredients into the European food chain, this latest opinion marks the first assessment​ for the cultivation of a GM crop.

The request for an opinion on the 1507 maize came from the European Commission. Although the EU has now lifted its six year ban on allowing imports of new GMs, there have been no approvals since 1998 on any new biotech crop that could be planted in Europe's fields.

Member states remain deeply divided over the GM issue and a reflection of the EU consumer's poor regard for GM foodstuffs, in total Europe has planted about 58,000 hectares of GM maize in Spain, lagging far behind the US, Canada and Argentina that have planted millions of hectares of GM crops.

But the EFSA announcement last week could mark a gradual move to change the GM landscape in Europe.

The decision to allow the cultivation of maize 1507 now lies with the ministers of the member states.

Calling for Europe to reject the maize, Eric Gall from the environmental group Greenpeace warns:"Open questions remain about the safety of this product for cultivation or food production. Member states should reject the authorisation of this GM maize in the absence of European measures to protect seeds and non GM agriculture from contamination."

EU environment experts, representing member states, will meet today (Monday) to decide whether to allow imports of 1507 maize, but only for use in food and feed - not for growing. The same group of experts will later discuss clearance of the maize for cultivation.

Facing the fury of anti-GM campaigners, early last year the European Commission broke the de facto moratorium on GM foods, and pushed through approval for a GM sweetcorn supplied by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta to enter the food chain. The first approval of a GM foodstuff since 1998.

While consumer groups complained that Brussels was caving into pressure from the US, the main global exporter of GM crops, the Commission argued that tough new rules on traceability and labelling of GM foodstuffs had cleared the way for the re-launch of approvals.

But EU states are divided. Up until January this year the Commission had asked EU members nine times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product. In eight cases, there was no agreement and in the ninth, the deadlock around the table resulted in the vote being postponed.

Europe remains wary while other parts of the world have welcomed the GM crops. Just last week Brazil's Congress passed a landmark Biosafety law intended to clear the commercial use of genetically modified crops in the country, one of the world's largest agricultural producers and exporters.

Brazil's lower house passed in a final vote last Wednesday a Biosafety Law that will define the regulatory framework for the use of genetically modified crops. The legislation now goes to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to be signed into law.

One day after this announcement world leader in biotech seeds, Monsanto, voiced plans to invest $20 million to develop a new genetically modified soybean resistant to pests.

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