July 1, 2009

EU Food Agency Deems GMO Maize Safe

The European Food Safety Authority declared on Tuesday that a genetically modified strain of maize banned in some EU countries poses no risk to health or the environment, AFP reported.

This means the European Commission, which supports use of the maize, will be battling the member states, most of which are against it.

After studying the strain, the independent risk assessor said the Monsanto MON810 maize was as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health.

The molecular characterization of the DNA insert into the maize, which gives it its special insect-repellent quality, does not raise any safety concern, and sufficient evidence for the stability of the genetic modification was provided, according to the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) GMO panel.

Germany is now the sixth EU nation to ban the genetically modified maize produced by the US biotech giant.

EU nations had previously refused to force Austria and Hungary to allow the cultivation of the GMO maize, a move that defied a call from the European Commission.

Cultivation of the GMO maize has been banned in France, Greece and Luxembourg.

The EU executives will analyze the new findings and then make a recommendation to the 27 member states, according to a European Commission spokeswoman.

But Greenpeace immediately complained that the EFSA "buried its head in the sand and ignored scientific evidence" on the negative effects of Monsanto's pesticide-producing GM maize on the environment.

Greenpeace EU GMO policy director Marco Contiero said the European Commission's blind reliance on EFSA's flawed opinions is likely to anger member states who feel scientific concerns on GM maize are not being addressed seriously.

Earlier this month, the European Commission's so-called Co-Extra report declared that genetically engineered crops and conventional crops would have to be grown in segregated areas to meet environmental concerns about transgenic farming in Europe.

The report warned that since fields in Europe are relatively small, and winds can spread pollen from transgenic crops over large distances, co-existence of novel and traditional crops will only be possible if they are grown in "dedicated zones."

Specific genes are inserted into genetically modified crops in the lab so that they acquire traits that are useful to farmers.

They are widely grown in North America, South America and China.

But green groups in Europe say the crops could potentially create "super-weeds" through cross-pollination that are impervious to herbicides.

The European Commission said only a handful of genetically modified crop have been approved for cultivation in the European Union, but so far only the controversial MON810 maize strain, which was approved back in 1998, is currently being grown.

In March, only Britain, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden supported the EU executive's bid to force countries to lift their ban on MON810.

At the time of the German ban, a source close to the European Commission told AFP that it might bring a revision of the European legislation on GM crops.


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