EU to rule on GM maize imports

By Philippa Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm maize, European union, Gm

European Union experts will decide on Monday whether imports of
Herculex RW, a genetically modified maize variety developed by the
multinational seed company Pioneer, should be allowed into
Europe.

Representatives from the 27 EU member states will vote on Monday on whether to authorise imports of GM maize 59122. The maize, modified with a protein known as 'Bt' to resist the maize rootworm, will be assessed for use in food, feed and processing. The Herculex RW trait received regulatory approval for US cultivation in 2005 and was first available in corn hybrids on the US market for the 2006 growing season. The trait has also been approved for import and for feed and food use in nine other countries, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Philippines and Taiwan. Herculex received a positive assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in March this year, but certain EU states such as Austria and Luxembourg known for their GM-scepticism may block the vote. The European Green Party is urging member states to vote against the authorisation, claiming there are "serious and legitimate health concerns about the GM maize". "The feeding studies submitted by the company show considerable changes in the blood parameters and in liver weight in rats fed with this GM variety,"​ said Monica Frassoni, member of the Italian Green Party, who accused EFSA of not taking such factors into account. Many of her fellow countrymen seemingly have the same distrust of GM crops. Representatives from the Italian farmers' union Coldiretti protested in front of the Italian parliament this week to demand an immediate halt to plans to test GM versions of traditional Italian crops such as GM olives and tomatoes. They also urged parliament to protect Italy's burgeoning organic food industry from GM contamination - concerned that demands for GM food will drop considerably if there are doubts about GM contamination. Similar concerns were expressed in the UK this week when a delegation representing 70 organic businesses urged UK environment minister David Miliband not to increase the current threshold for GM contamination of organic food from 0.1 per cent to 0.9 per cent. The organic secor is a growing business globally and aside from the health risks cited by some, farmers and organic food manufactuers are worried that increased use of GMOs could threaten their industry through contamination as many consumers buy organic food to avoid GMOs. According to a study published recently in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the world market for certified organic foods was estimated at $23-25 bn (€17.3-18.8 bn) in 2003 with annual growth of about 19 per cent. Figures released this month by Eurostat claimed that only 1.8 per cent of agricultural land in the EU-15 was cultivated with organic crops in 1998, but by 2005 this figure has increased to 4.1 per cent, while 3.9 per cent of the agricultural area in the EU-25 was devoted to organics by 2005.

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