EU countries in deadlock over genetically modified maize approvals


This article is part of our special report Risk vs. hazard in policymaking.

EU member states failed on Monday (10 June) to agree on whether to approve three genetically modified maize varieties for use in food and feed.

As the bloc’s standing committee on food chain and animal health failed to reach a majority either for or against, the decisions will pass to an appeal committee over the coming weeks, a Commission spokesman said.

Should the appeal committee also be unable to reach an agreement, the Commission will be free to grant EU marketing approval.

Two of the applications are for maize varieties containing multiple or “stacked” gene traits. These are designed to protect the growing plants from multiple insect pests and both products are developed jointly by Monsanto Co and Dow Chemical Co.

Neither variety is approved for cultivation in Europe. The authorisation would cover the use of imports in food and feed products sold in Europe, although there is little or no demand for genetically modified food among EU consumers.

The third approval covers the pollen of Monsanto’s insect-resistant MON810 maize. This is the only genetically modified crop which is currently grown commercially in Europe.

The bid for approval followed a ruling by the Europe’s highest court in 2011 that even small traces of the pollen in honey must receive EU authorisation before the product can be sold.

Five out of 27 EU member states grew MON810 maize on 129,000 hectares in 2012, according to data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Spain was the top producer, followed by Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.

The European Commission proposed allowing national cultivation bans for GMOs in July 2010, in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM crop approvals which has seen few varieties approved for cultivation in more than 12 years.

The proposal, however, has been subject to bitter divisions in the Council since then, with recent attempts to find a compromise agreement making little headway.

To date, seven EU countries have introduced national "safeguard" bans on growing Monsanto's MON 810 insect-resistant maize: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

On 2 January 2013, Poland's government announced restrictions on MON 810 and the Amflora potato, produced by German biotech firm BASF.

A year earlier, BASF's Plant Science announced that it was moving its plant biotech research activities from Germany to the United States and would cease all work to develop GM crops for the EU market.

  • 11-12 June: European Risk Summit in Dublin

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