August 8, 2005

EU authorizes GMO maize type by legal rubberstamp

By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union authorized imports
of a genetically modified (GMO) maize on Monday, the third GMO
product to win approval since the EU ended its unofficial
biotech ban last year, officials said.

The maize, known as MON 863, is engineered by U.S. biotech
giant Monsanto to resist the corn rootworm insect.

In theory, the maize may now be sold across EU territory
for processing into animal feed -- not for growing -- but will
have to receive a second EU approval for use in food before
shipments can start. This might take another month, officials

"This authorization has been granted to Monsanto for 10
years," the European Commission said in a statement. "When put
on the market, it will need to be clearly labeled as containing
genetically modified maize," it said.

Even though the EU has now lifted its six-year unofficial
moratorium on approving new GMO products, national governments
have consistently clashed over biotech policy.

The EU's member states have ended meetings in deadlock 14
times in a row on whether to approve new GMO products, usually
for use in industrial processing or as animal feed. The last
time they actually agreed on a new GMO approval was in 1998.

The decision taken by the European Commission was permitted
under a legal default procedure that kicks in after national
governments are unable to agree among themselves.

The last chance that the 25-nation bloc had to reach a
majority agreement was in late June at a meeting of EU
environment ministers in Luxembourg.


Green groups were angry about the GMO approval, saying
there were serious doubts about the maize's safety. The
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave MON 863 a clean bill
of health in April 2004 and deemed it as safe as conventional

"It is unacceptable that the European Commission pushes
through this controversial application when there are questions
on long-term safety," said Helen Holder, GMO campaigner at
environment lobby group Friends of the Earth Europe.

In particular, green groups cite a feeding study of MON 863
maize on rats, which they say showed significant differences
regarding kidney structures and levels of white blood cells
between rats fed on the GMO maize and those that were not.

The Commission says EFSA had already taken the rat study
into account in an updated risk assessment of the maize late
last year, seeing no reason to change its original view.